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British Citizenship By Naturalisation – Some Common Problems Answered

27 November 2020 Grace McGill Blog

If you have been granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and are over 18 years old you may be eligible to apply for British Citizenship by Naturalisation.

There are of course various statutory criteria to be satisfied

  • length of residence in the UK
  • future intentions
  • knowledge of the English language and life in the UK
  • good character requirement
  • periods of absence from the UK

When Can I Apply?

If you are married to a British citizen, you can apply for British Citizenship by Naturalisation as soon as you have been granted Indefinite Leave to Remain.  You will need to satisfy all of the other requirements for British Citizenship by Naturalisation as outlined above.  In addition, you must have been in the UK on the day three years before the date of your application and not have  been absent from the UK for more than 270 days during the intervening three year period

If you are not married to a British citizen, you will need to have been free of immigration time restrictions for at least 12 months immediately preceding the date of your application.  Again, you need to satisfy all of the other requirements as outlined above  and not have been absent from the UK for more than 450 days during the intervening five year period;

What is the Good Character Requirement?

The British Nationality Act 1981 requires any person who wishes to naturalise as a British Citizen to be of ‘good character’. ‘Good character’ is not defined in the Act, but rather in the Home Office guidance which explains how the application will be assessed.  

Consideration must be given to all aspects of a person’s character, including the negative factors, for example criminality, immigration law breaches and deception, and positive factors, for example contributions a person has made to society. The list of factors is not exhaustive. Each application must be carefully considered on its own merits. An applicant must be considered to be of good character on the balance of probabilities. You  must also inform the Home Office of any significant event (such as a criminal conviction or a pending prosecution) or any mitigating factors that could have a bearing on the good character assessment.

A person will not normally be considered to be of good character if there is information to suggest that any of the following apply:

Criminality :   If they have not respected or are not prepared to abide by the law - for example, they have been convicted of a crime or there are reasonable grounds to suspect, meaning it is more likely than not, they have been involved in crime.

Financial soundness :  If their financial affairs have not been in appropriate order - for example, they have failed to pay taxes for which they were liable or have accrued significant debt.

Notoriety : If their activities have been notorious and cast serious doubt on their standing in the local community.

Deception and dishonesty : If they have been deliberately dishonest or deceptive in their dealings with the UK government, for example they have made false claims in order to obtain benefits.

Immigration-related matters:  If they have breached immigration laws, for example by overstaying, working in breach of conditions or assisting in the evasion of immigration control.

Deprivation : If they have previously been deprived of citizenship.

It is important that the good character requirement is considered carefully in any application for British Citizenship by Naturalisation as apparently innocuous matters can lead to an adverse decision. 

See Published policy https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/923656/good-character-guidance-v2.0-gov-uk.pdf

What if I Have Been in Breach of Immigration Control?

There is some discretion, in the special circumstances of a particular case, to disregard breaches of the immigration laws (unlawful residence) during the qualifying period. Such breaches only involve being here without leave to enter or remain. Other immigration offences, such as breaching a restriction on taking employment and harbouring other immigration offenders, will not be considered under the residence requirement, but under the good character requirement.  Discretion will only be exercised if there are reasons for this which were clearly outside your control, or if the breach was genuinely inadvertent and short. A person may also be in breach if they have not complied fully with all the requirements of the route they are on.

See Home Office policy Guidance  https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/914183/Naturalisation-as-a-british-citizen-by-discretion_v6.0.pdf

Who Can Act as a Referee?

You will need to provide two referees when you apply for British Citizenship by Naturalisation.  One referee should be a person of any nationality who has professional standing, such as a minister of religion, civil servant, or a member of a professional body such as an accountant, solicitor or barrister (who is not representing you with the application). The other referee must normally be the holder of a British citizen passport and either a professional person or over the age of 25

Each referee should have known you personally for at least 3 years and must not be related to you nor the 2nd referee.

For a list of acceptable professionals see the current list here :


If you are living overseas and don’t know a British citizen passport holder who is a professional person or over the age of 25, a commonwealth citizen or citizen of the country in which you reside may complete and sign the form provided that they are

Over 25 years or have a professional standing in the country

Have known you for at least 3 years

And they are deemed acceptable referees.

Referees must provide certain information about themselves stating how they know you and sign the declaration certifying that the photograph attached is your true likeness and that to the best of their knowledge that the information you have given is true and correct.

If suitable referees cannot be obtained then the application will fall for refusal.

Can I Leave the UK Once My Application is Submitted?

Unlike Immigration applications for leave to remain in the UK, once you submit an application for Naturalisation you can travel outside of the UK whilst your application is pending.

Contact us if you are in any doubt about your application and qualifying criteria.





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