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Naturalising as a British Citizen - where to start, and a few taster tips

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Choosing to naturalise as a British citizen is undoubtedly an important, life-impacting decision that requires thorough consideration. It may involve renouncing one’s nationality of birth and personal heritage, may have an impact on your family members, and it is a cost-intensive process. Nevertheless, there is no disputing the fact that naturalisation represents the ‘golden ticket’ for foreign nationals wishing to achieve true peace of mind regarding their status in the UK. Furthermore - under the growing cloud of uncertainty created by Brexit, this now holds as true to citizens of the EEA as it does to UK migrants from countries further afield.

So what are the basic requirements for Naturalisation?

Firstly, the applicant must be aged 18 or over and be of good character. This can generally be expanded to mean that the applicant does not have a serious or recent criminal record, has not tried to deceive the UK Home Office, and has a clear immigration record.

The applicant must next meet the residency requirement, and be able to show an enduring intention to reside in the UK. The residency requirement varies depending on the applicant’s nationality and whether they are married or in a civil partnership with a British Citizen:-

  • If the applicant is from a non-EEA country, they must show they have lived in the UK legally for 5 years and thus achieved settlement (‘indefinite leave to remain’), and then been in the UK for a further year with that status. They must not have spent more than 9 months outside the UK in the 5 year window, and not spent more than 3 months outside the UK in the last year.
  • If the applicant is from within the EEA, they must show they have lived in the UK legally for 5 years and thus achieved permanent residence, and then been in the UK for a further year with that status. They must not have spent more than 9 months outside the UK in the 5 year window, and not spent more than 3 months outside the UK in the last year.
  • For both of the categories above, if the applicant is married or in a civil partnership with a British citizen, then the residence period is only 3 years and there is no requirement to wait for a year after achieving settlement or permanent residence.

The final central requirement is that the applicant must meet the knowledge of English language requirement, and pass the Life in the UK test.

Top Tips

On the face of it, meeting the requirements as summarised above may seem relatively straightforward. However, the reality is that the citizenship application process is littered with pitfalls, is subject to changes to law and regulation, and can be really quite complex once you drill down into the detail. The Immigration Team at Chattertons have extensive experience in navigating these pitfalls and staying on top of an ever-changing landscape, and we would always recommend that you seek advice before submitting an application.

The following is a short taster of some things to think about when submitting an application to naturalise as British citizen.

  1. You need to have been physically present in the UK on the precise day 3 or 5 years (depending on which residence period applies to you) before the date of applying. For example, for an unmarried applicant applying on 13 September 2017, they need to have been physically in the UK on 14 September 2012. Failure to meet this requirement will result in a rejected application and loss of any fee paid.
  2. The fees are on the rise. Whilst the Home Office has recently confirmed that there will be no increase in the fees for Naturalisation applications on October 2nd, there have nonetheless been periodic increases in in the application charges over the recent years. The Home Office plans to become self-sufficient by 2020, surviving on application fees alone – this will only result in them becoming dearer over time.
  3. Documentation is important. I think we can all relate to the feeling of being inundated with what feels like surplus paper, whether from our employment, in relation to our property or bills, records of our finances, and so on. However - these paper trails are going to be vital when putting together a successful citizenship application, so keep everything. The Home Office attaches a higher ‘value’ to certain types of documents when assessing an application, so at the very least you should seek advice on whether your documents will be sufficient to meet the application requirements.
  4. You may be exempt from the English Language and Knowledge of the UK tests. Under certain circumstances, you may be able to bypass these requirements of the naturalisation application. Amongst others, exemptions include being of certain age, being the holder of certain academic qualifications, or by being a national of other specified English-speaking countries. These tests will cause you an additional expense, so make sure you know whether or not you are exempt from the outset.
  5. Submitting an application does not prevent you from travelling. There exists a service whereby you can attend an appointment with your local Council, and they will take copies of your original documents – including your passport and/or biometric card – and return the originals to you there-and-then. Given the guideline application processing times for citizenship, this is a popular option for many applicants who wish to retain the right of travel.
  6. Beware roque advisors. In the UK, Immigration advice is regarded as a ‘reserved activity’. This means that only individuals who are suitably qualified or regulated can provide advice to members of the public. At Chattertons, we have the experience and authorisation to advise on all matter of Immigration and Nationality law. Make sure you know whether your adviser is able to advise you!

To discuss any of these matters further, please contact a member of our Immigration team to arrange a consultation or to discuss any specific matter in more detail.