Mishal Patel, our Director of Citizenship and Immigration, discusses British citizenship through double descent for children under 18. Your child may have a claim to British citizenship if they have a UK-born grandparent, even though you were born out of the UK.

Citizenship through double descent

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Episode transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Shannan Collop: Hello and welcome back to the Sable International citizenship podcast. My name is Shannan and I'm here with Mishal Patel, Director of our Immigration and Citizenship division. British citizenship is a fascinating topic, there are all kinds of common and uncommon routes, with strict deadlines in terms of an application age. This is why we introduced this seven-part series where Mishal and I will explain, in detail all the routes to British citizenship for children under 18

In the first episode of the series, we spoke about British citizenship through descent. In this episode, however, we'll be focusing primarily on British citizenship through double descent for children under 18.

What is citizenship by double descent?

SC: How is double descent different than claiming citizenship by descent?

Mishal Patel: It is quite different because usually, when you're claiming citizenship by descent from a parent, it's where the parent's born in the UK, or the parent naturalised in the UK, and you just happen to be that first generation born out of the UK. So, very straightforward as compared to double descent.

A double descent scenario is where your parent is also born out of the UK and acquired citizenship through their father or mother (your grandparent) born in the UK. A practical scenario like this would have a child born, let's say in South Africa in 2006, their parent is also born in South Africa, in the 1970s, with the grandparent born in the UK. How can this child claim citizenship automatically through their parent, even though the parent themselves is British by descent? That's where the UK usually has their stance where the answer is, “no”. There are certain interpretations that allow us to claim citizenship for that child by double descent.

Citizenship through a UK-born grandmother

SC: Can you briefly describe certain routes by double descent with examples of past cases?

MP: Of course. So, let's start off with the most common one that I've seen in my time having roadshows in South Africa. The one that I've come across the most is actually an automatic claim through a parent who's been registered to their UK-born mom. Let me expand on that. People who are born in South Africa before 1983 couldn't claim citizenship through their UK-born mother. The law was quite gender discriminatory; citizenship wouldn’t be allowed to flow from a mother born in the UK to a child born before 1983 out of the UK. However, in 1979, the UK then tried to right that wrong and told their British posts abroad that they could register such children, whilst minors, as British citizens (or what used to be called Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies). So, if I was someone born, let's say, in 1979 in South Africa to a mother born in the UK, I will be registered under Section 7 of the law that was prevailing at that point. Now, what that means is, in the modern day, that parent has a full British passport, having been registered through their mom before 1983.

Now, what that means is, through a specific identification that we have been able to confirm with the passport office, that citizenship passes on one further generation born out of the UK, to children born after the first of January 1983 onwards. In other words, in terms of a family tree, let's say your child was born in 1995 and you, the father, were born in South Africa before 1983, and you have been registered in this fashion before 1983, your child is British by descent and has always been British. Often when people present me their certificates, I go, “This is a good one because this means that any children born to you, including obviously your children now, are British citizens, and have been since day one, and should just go and apply for their British passport”.

Again, just to stress, if your parent is British, not born in the UK, but has a British passport, and you suspect they've got it through their mom, or you've been registered before 1983, then this could be applicable to your children, even if they are over 18 now. There's no deadline for that.

Crown service

MP: The other not-so-common one, but every two or three weeks, we'll get an inquiry on it, is Crown Service. This is an interpretation that allows a British parent who is classified as British by descent, because they are born in South Africa, for example, with a father born in the UK to automatically pass on his citizenship to a further generation born out of the UK, if that child was born in South Africa after first of January 1983.

In the South African context, Crown Service is most commonly being in the British South African Police. Because what happens here is that UK-born grandfathers went over to Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and joined the efforts down there.

In a very basic example, if your father was such a person at the time that you were born in South Africa, chances are, that you will claim your nationality from your UK-born father and you can pass it on to a further generation born out of the UK through Crown Service. Because what we have been able to do over the last sort of almost six to seven years, is negotiate with the passport office to convince them that something like the British South African Police Service does count towards Crown Service. A lot of people are under the wrong impression that Crown Service means army service only for the UK government. But not necessarily. It includes teachers, civil officers, and so on.

So if you're a parent, and you have a British passport, but you know your dad was in the British South African police, or he was working with the UK government in some aspect when you were born, the chances are that you're not just British by descent, but you're British in such a manner that you have always had the right to pass it on to your children and children born to you are probably British now, and you should look into that.

Do double descent claims lead to British passports?

SC: Mishal, tell me, do double descent claims always result in applications for British passports or can they only result in applications for British citizenship?

MP: That's quite a good question. Often, I think people have the misunderstanding that applications for British citizenship are always straightaway applying for a British passport. But that's only applicable where you can convince the passport office. So, if the parent has notified the passport office that the child is already British, and always has been, this does result in them being able to get a British passport. But that’s not always the case, of course. So, the straight answer to your question is, no not necessarily.

But sometimes double descent claims do lead to an option to register the child as a British citizen because they're not already British. And then you can use that registration certificate to apply for the child's first British passport. Now, that is when age becomes an issue. In other words, there is a limit, which is the 18th birthday in terms of when the application needs to be submitted.

In a practical sense, the most common way is where a double descent claim would first need to go through a registration process, which is a formal way to acquire British citizenship. It's about an application to the Home Office in the UK, rather than the passport office. They are two separate entities in the UK. One grants passports, the other grants nationality.

The three-year residency option

Another common way where double descent claims have led to a registration option, is where you have a grandparent, say born in the UK, or in some cases in an overseas colony. The parent is also born outside the UK, British by descent, none of the other two exemptions I mentioned earlier apply. So, the parent is British by descent, so can't automatically pass their nationality to a further generation born out of the UK. But the parent has lived in the UK for three years continuously, where no more than 270 days out before the child's birth. It doesn't matter whether they had a valid British passport whilst they were in the UK. The fact is, that they're British by descent at the time that the child was born, and the child is still under 18. The relevant British parent has lived in the UK for any three years, with no more than 270 days out, and the relevant parent's parent, so this is the grandparent, was British otherwise than by descent. In such a scenario, we're able to register a child without the child having to come to the UK or the family. While the child is living in South Africa, we can make an online application to register the child as a British citizen using the parent’s British Nationality status and previous UK residency. A lot of our listeners could have children who are 17, 16, or turning 18 very soon.

A lot of our listeners are British parents who themselves are born out of the UK and a lot of our listeners, hopefully, who are British parents and have children in the right age, have spent some three years in the UK. And give me any three-year period as long as it's before the child's birth. If you are someone that falls into that realm, or these sorts of requirements, please contact us before it's too late. Because once a child is 18, we can't make an application.

SC: Thank you so much, Mishal. Thank you for your time and thank you to everyone who tuned in today. I hope you will all join us for our next episode in this podcast series where we will be talking about the complex route to British citizenship, by triple descent for children.

Find out if you have a British citizenship claim by filling in our free online British citizenship Assessment. Get in touch with our citizenship team on +44 (0) 20 7759 7581 or at citizenship@sableinternational.com

Catch up on the previous podcast episodes in this series:

1. Complications regarding citizenship for children by birth and descent

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