The UK government’s New Plan for Immigration is making its way through parliament. Mishal Patel outlines some of the ways the new legislation could impact those previously denied UK nationality.


Uploaded on 11 October 2021.

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This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Tallulah van der Made: Hello, and welcome to the sixth episode of the Sable International UK Citizenship Podcast.

My name is Tallulah and I'm here with Mishal Patel to discuss some exciting new legislation that will potentially mean new routes to British citizenship opening up in the first half of next year.

Mishal, can you talk us through some of these new provisions?

Correcting historical gender discrimination in UK nationality law

Mishal Patel: Sure. So, just a little bit of background. This new piece of legislation is still being debated in Parliament at the moment. These provisions are vast, but to summarise, these new provisions are meant to combat the historical unfairness and injustice in earlier British nationality law, something I have seen affect my clients again and again. Just because their ancestors who were born in the UK were women or just because their ancestors happened to be born out of marriage, they, as descendants of those ancestors, were not able to become British citizens.

These new provisions are meant to combat the historical unfairness and injustice in earlier British nationality law.

TV: Okay, so for example with gender discrimination, it's not just the women, where women were not able to pass down the British citizenship, it's also when children were born out of wedlock, in the days before DNA testing was possible, there was no way to prove the father. So, a lot of those people would then not have gotten citizenship through the father. But now, because they want to right those historic wrongs, if you, your parents or your grandparents would have received British citizenship, were it not for that gender discrimination, then they want to right that so that – if you can prove that – you can now receive your British citizenship.

No age limit for qualification

MP: Correct. Absolutely. The good thing about these new provisions is there is no age limit. Whereas currently, there is a section in the British Nationality Act, which gives the Home Secretary full discretion to register any child that he or she thinks qualifies, but the application has to be put in while they're under 18.

This is the first time that we're seeing the Home Office take it upon themselves to introduce a section that actually gives broad powers of discretion to the Home Secretary to register someone, even though they're over 18.

British Overseas Territories (BOT)

MP: Actually, it doesn't just extend to British citizenship, but also to those islanders who have ancestors who were born in modern-day British Overseas Territories. It has about four to six different sections, which give rights to those who wouldn't be British Overseas Territory citizens in the modern day because of those two bits of unfairness that we talked about, but would now be able to become such citizens. By becoming British Overseas Territory citizens, they would then be allowed to become full British citizens in certain situations.

TV: So, on that point, maybe you can take us through an example of some people who may be affected by the proposed changes?

Examples of who might be affected by the UK nationality law changes

Born in South Africa, mother born in British Overseas Territory

MP: One big example could be someone born in South Africa that had their mom born in a current-day British Overseas Territory. At that point, what would have happened, if this law was enforced at that point, and things were completely gender equal, then that person born in South Africa, say in 1966, would have been able to claim his or her mother's British Overseas Territory citizenship and, in the modern day, would then have been reclassified as a full British citizen, like most BOTCs have been since then. So that's one example. That's what the provisions in this new legislation seek to correct is to give rights to descendants of those people who were born on those islands that are very much part of the UK.

Born in South Africa, UK-born grandfather, Zambian mother.

MP: Now another example could be, again, someone born in South Africa, who happens to have the grandfather born in the UK, whereas the middle generation was born in a place that was part of the UK in the past.

Now, what ends up happening here is when a country gets independence, they really do not get to keep their British citizenship. They become local citizens of that country. And that's the idea of independence, of course.

One of the current provisions is that if your father or father's father was born in the UK, you could keep your British nationality, even though you become a citizen of that independent country, but not if your mother's father was born in the UK, or mother's mother.  Now, it's giving them those rights and rightfully so.

Born out of marriage to a British Overseas Territory father

MP: Talking about legitimacy. A lot of people weren’t afforded British nationality because they were born out of a marriage, which now the Home Office has sought to correct. But the problem with the current legislation here is that you have to prove that you would be a British citizen in the modern day, but for the fact that you're born out of a marriage.

However, it doesn't give access to British Overseas Territory citizenship in the same rights.  So, if I would be a British Overseas Territory citizen if my parents were married, I can't do anything about that now. But I should be able to when this new legislation takes effect.

So, it’s got lots of far-reaching effects.

TV: Yeah, not only if your parents were born in the UK but in any of those British Overseas Territories as well.

MP: Those are just a few examples off the top of my head. But just a few of the many, many examples that we will see in the upcoming months as we can’t decipher this bill at the moment before it becomes an Act of Parliament.

When will the UK nationality law changes take effect?

TV: When is it likely to become law?

MP: That's the million Dollar question. With the UK we have the House of Commons, the House of Lords and then Royal Assent. Currently, it's only passed two stages of what is a 12-stage process. It’s at the committee stage at the moment. What happens at the Committee stage is Parliament reaches out to experts in the field. It reaches out to stakeholders, people outside of the parliamentary interest, in debating the bill and gets their views  on it as well. Once you pass the Committee stage, two more further readings at the House of Commons. Then we've got the five readings at the House of Lords before receiving hopefully, a Royal Assent. So I think, given that from July we've already got through two stages, I feel that sort of this time next year it should be an Act of Parliament. That's where my money is.

I feel that sort of this time next year it should be an Act of Parliament. That's where my money is.

TV: How likely is it to go through?

MP: I think it's very likely to go through. I think the intention of Parliament is strong here. Let's not forget that the UK has been trying to correct historic wrongs in British nationality legislation for the past 30 years or so. You know, it tried to correct those wrongs as early as 1979 – allowing children born to British mothers to be registered at discretion in 1979. It then amended that and made that far-reaching in 2003. In 2009 again, on the amendment after that. Then we had the sections in the Cambridge Nationality Act of 1981 to do with adults being able to register as British citizens, if they can prove they would be British, but for them not being born within a marriage. Again, that was introduced in 2016. So, what we can see is the UK is trying to correct many historic wrongs.

TV: There’s precedent of similar things going through. So, there’s no reason to expect this one won’t go through. It just has to go through the process.

MP: I just think it’s the movement at the moment. I feel like the parliamentary debates I've been hearing are all headed that way, which is, “Let’s try make this fair, let's try and correct every historical injustice or unfairness that's led to people not being able to claim citizenship, or other types of British nationals for that matter, as well”.

What we can see is the UK is trying to correct many historic wrongs.

We also saw how willing the UK is recently with the BNO situation, allowing them to come into the UK.

We do have an obligation, and we do have an obligation under the UN conventions as well, that the UK’s signed up to, and I think this is the Home Secretary taking it upon herself to make sure that we meet all those conventions, treaties and responsibilities.

TV: Are there any other key takeaways you’d like to mention?

How to apply when the changes take effect

MP:  Look out for publications by us, please check our website for updates, and register on when you can, because this is where we're going to be reaching out to our database.

TV: The free British citizenship assessment we have on our website and on WhatPassport (it’s the same assessment), if you fill that in with your contact details, then we’ll keep you informed of all the changes as they happen.

MP: As quickly as we can and who it affects. But, you know, having said that, if you are someone reading this who has a grandmother born in the UK, whether to dad or mum’s side and you have been told in the past that, “Oh it’s just because your parents weren’t married or just because it can’t come down the maternal line”, you know, get in touch with us, because I do think this legislation, when it does take effect (of course, it might be amended slightly), but I think it will serve what its purpose is, which is to correct those types of injustices that that used to exist. So, get in touch with us because I think we should be able to help you out.

How Sable International helps with complex claims to UK nationality

TV: Do you want to go into more detail about what Sable International does and how we can help with these applications?

MP: Absolutely. So, you know, I've been part of this family for like 12 years now. We are a team that's based across mainly two continents: South Africa and the UK. What we specialise in is looking at claims to British nationality through family links to the UK or Overseas Territories.

Now, with that, we have experience in finding where there is historical injustice, and where our clients couldn’t claim.

We have experience in finding where there is historical injustice, and where our clients couldn’t claim.

So, reach out to us and help us reach more people so that if this law does become an Act, which I'm in no doubt it will, then we are reaching the maximum number of people that should benefit from it.

Iinitially, we will take down your details, we would want to compile a report for you just to explain our understanding of what's going to happen and how it affects you. Once we’ve done this report, we'll also put you in our queue for the actual casework when the bill becomes an Act. At that point, we will then be submitting it on a sort of queue basis.

TV: I think that you mentioned to me before, this isn't the kind of thing where you have an application form that you can just find on the GOV.UK site. For this kind of thing, you need somebody who understands the law and can reference the right historical injustices to say, “My client qualifies because if it weren’t for this, this, this, they would have qualified.” So, you do kind of need someone with that experience. It's not really something you can do for yourself.

MP: You know, when you said “reference”, that's exactly it. If you don't know why you didn't have a claim in the past, you wouldn't be able to tell whether it is due to historical injustice or unfairness and therefore you wouldn't be able to then qualify yourself under these new provisions. So you do have to have an understanding of the law in a historic context to understand how you could help in the modern day with these discretionary provisions. There is no set criteria to meet. You can’t just say, “I meet AB and C and here's why”. It's really your explanation to the relevant authorities to explain how you're being unfairly treated and why you're not British as a direct consequence of that, and then being able to classify that as a historical injustice in the law that would give rise to a claim in the modern day or a successful claim. So, absolutely very difficult to do on your own if you don't have that historical know-how.

TV: And fluency in legalese. 

MP: Absolutely. Some of this is obviously our assumptions, but the way I see it, it is going to become law. Although we can’t be 100% sure when, I have no doubt it will at some point.

TV: You already mentioned that we will be putting out lots of articles about this, as we receive clarity. If you think it might apply to you, then fill in the assessment form because we will keep in touch with you by email. I also wanted to remind you that we do have a messenger box on Anchor FM and you are welcome to message us your questions about this, or just about UK nationality in general. If we don't get to them in the next episode, they might inspire a future episode. So, we really would love to hear from you and what you're interested in.

MP: Absolutely. If you think you are affected by this potential new legislation, you want to know if you are, you can find us on LinkedIn, you can find us on Facebook, you can contact us through our website. So please reach out. We'll be happy to answer your questions.

TV: Okay, great. That's it for today. We'll be chatting to you again soon, Mishal. I think our next topic is going to be about ways that South Africans can qualify for UK citizenship, no matter your age. So, look out for that one. I think that will be quite an interesting one. Until next time. Bye.

MP: Next time. Thank you for tuning in guys. Bye.

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?
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