Mishal Patel, our Director of Citizenship and Immigration, discusses British citizenship through birth and descent for children under 18. Your children might have a claim, even if they’re born out of the UK.

Uploaded on 5 May 2023.

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This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Episode transcript

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Shannan Collop: Hello and welcome to the Sable International Citizenship podcast. My name is Shannan and I'm here with Mishal, director of our Immigration and Citizenship division. In this seven-part series, Mishal and I will explain in detail all the routes to British citizenship for children under 18

Why the focus on British citizenship for children under 18?

SC: I know you're quite excited about this podcast series and have a soft spot when it comes to cases involving children. Can you expand on why?

MP: I think it's a little bit personal for me. In a nutshell, I was not born in the UK and neither was my mum. She was born in a previous UK colony and through the help of the gentleman I now work for, she managed to get her British nationality. Luckily, I happened to be under 18, and whilst a minor, I could then be brought into UK for settlement. Had she not done that, I don't think I would be here. Had she not got that advice in time, and learned about that route, which she had no clue about, we would have missed the opportunity to get me into the UK, settled here and my nationality. She did the right thing by asking the right people and I hope our listeners will do the same.

Read more: UK Citizenship Series: How Mishal gained his UK citizenship

Who should listen to this podcast?

SC: That's amazing. Can you briefly tell us what type of person should listen to this podcast?

MP: Absolutely. The type of person who should listen to this podcast series is not just, as you may assume, British parents with children under 18 born out of the UK.

We'll learn throughout the course of this series that even those who are not British could have a claim. Parents who are born in South Africa, but may have a UK-born grandparent born in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), or Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), or Nyasaland (Malawi). If you have any of these connections in your family tree, you as a parent could have a claim to a British passport. This could open up the door for your children, especially if those children are now about to reach their 15th to 18th birthday.

Importantly, those who are family planning or expecting, that are British, or have claims potentially to British nationality should also listen to this podcast.

Please get in touch. You do not want to have that child out of the UK if it turns out, through investigation, that you can't pass on the British nationality that you hold or could be holding to your child if born in South Africa.

Complications if your child is born outside of the UK

SC: I love that it's relatable to so many people. Let's get into the simplest form of getting British citizenship: by birth, or descent. Being born in the UK to a British citizen is a given, but I understand that it becomes a bit more complicated if your child is born outside of the UK. Can you tell me more about that?

MP: Yes, it could be complicated, especially in a situation where the child is born out of a marriage, which the UK has traditionally not allowed.

The real complication that I see in my day-to-day life, and the questions I get asked by my clients when I'm visiting South Africa is, “I'm born out of the UK, but my dad was born in the UK, and I now have a child born to me. Can they claim citizenship?”

That's when you run into complications because then you're looking at citizenship by double descent. That's when you are born out of the UK, and you don't have a UK connection near enough for a straight citizenship claim. If you're classified as British by descent, you can't pass nationality on to a further generation born out of the UK, whereas those by birth can.

If you're classified as British by descent, you can't pass a nationality on to a further generation born out of UK, whereas those by birth can.

This is why it's crucial to know what type of British citizen you are– are you British by birth or by descent?

If you're classified as British by descent, you can't pass nationality on to a further generation born out of the UK, whereas those by birth can.

The definition of British citizenship is actually within the statute law and open to interpretation. It takes a little bit of knowing where to look and how to read it to understand which type you are because it's not apparent from one's British passport. My British passport and someone in South Africa’s British passport look exactly the same, but we’re not the same type of British national. I'm British by naturalisation, which means if I have a child born to me in Kenya, the child will be British. This is not the same for someone in South Africa, for example, who holds a British passport and has a child born to them there now.

Discrimination against children born out of wedlock

SC: Interesting. You mentioned there was discrimination when it came to unmarried couples in the immigration law. When was this remedied and more so, how did the law change affect children born out of wedlock to a British father for example?

MP: As I said earlier, with British nationality and the UK, there are certain things that may not be acceptable in today's society so, it was changed but it wasn't retrospective.

To go back a step, British nationality by descent, from a father to a child born out of the UK– that father can only pass on his nationality if that child was born “legitimately”. That only changed in July 2006. If you can prove your paternity, then you can claim your dad's nationality even if you're born out of a marriage. However, that change was not retrospective, so if you were born before July 2006, you still have an issue.

If you can prove your paternity, then you can claim your dad's nationality even if you're born out of a marriage.

A successful remedy that we've been able to action and use has been registering the child at the discretion of the Home Office. This needs to be submitted before the child’s 18th birthday. For example, this could be someone born in 2000 in South Africa, where the father was born British and the parents never got married. We would want to submit an application for their registration as a British citizen before their 18th birthday, to remedy the fact that they can't automatically claim citizenship from their dad.

SC: Is there anything else that is pertinent to citizenship by descent?

MP: The other main one that I want to talk about when we consider British citizenship by descent is to not forget about your child’s 15th birthday. I mentioned this earlier, and I just want to expand on that.

If your child is about to turn 15, and you're British by descent, your child cannot inherit your British citizenship unless they’ve lived in the UK for three years before they turn 18. If you can relocate the family to the UK before your child's 15th birthday, they can amass that three-year period of UK residence after which we can apply to register the child whilst in the UK.

What are my next steps if I think my child is British by descent?

SC: If I was a parent and I wanted to find out if my child was British by descent, what are my next steps?

MP: Sure, that's an easy one. The next steps are that you reach out to our team. We have a team in Cape Town and in the UK. Both these teams are excellent at taking your query and translating that into a family tree, to understand who's who and how the claim could work. They will work with our team of British nationality specialists in the UK to confirm, for no fee at all, through a status trace service, whether you have:

  • a likely claim
  • an unclear claim (where we need to do more research)
  • an unlikely claim

If your claim is unlikely then you’re better off speaking to someone like myself or my team to design a route to UK citizenship by future UK residence, one of them being the 15th birthday route.

British Nationality Assessment

Discover if you qualify for British nationality through your heritage. Our online assessment uses your personal circumstances, and those of your parents and grandparents, to let you know your chances of attaining a British passport.

We are able to give that initial advice for no fee, and it is relatively accurate. When we are not sure, we will say unclear or not sure.

I've been through the process, so I know what it’s like. You get the whole team behind every case. It's getting triple-checked but more importantly, in the event that we get it wrong, and the Home Office comes back and inform us, we actually give your money back. There's a full refund of our fees. We do not want people leaving Sable International feeling that they're wasting their time and money. This is why we have an excellent track record with the UK government.

We don’t just isolate one claim, but we look for the best claim. Many practitioners, in my opinion, go for face value. No one asks the right questions or digs deep to ask, “Well, what is the plan if you get citizenship?" It could be that it’s not a good idea to become a British citizen. It's actually more expensive, if one of the parents becomes a British citizen and then moves a family to the UK, compared to first moving to the UK on an immigration route and whilst there, becoming a British citizen, and perhaps going to the UK afterwards, because of how the immigration laws work.

You have to look at it as a whole and ask the client what the big picture is. Even though I could earn a fee, it may not be the best option for them. That's not the point though. The point is, and one of our core values at Sable International is care. We really do care, we want to give you the best advice, even if it means we lose out on the initial fee. I've found that we're really good at that.

SC: Thank you so much, Mishal. Thank you for your time and thank you to everyone who tuned in today. I hope you all join us for our next episode in this podcast series, British citizenship by double descent for children. See you then!

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. How Mishal gained his UK citizenship
  2. The EU Settlement Scheme
  3. Routes to UK citizenship for Americans
  4. Complex UK nationality (with Philip Gamble)
  5. EU Settlement Scheme – What now?
  6. Proposed changes to UK nationality law
  7. British citizenship through a great-grandparent (Triple descent )
  8. UK nationality law change update and roadshow retrospective

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