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Citizen of the UK and colonies (CUKC)

A citizen of the UK and colonies was the old colonial status given to British citizens during the period 1 January 1949 to 31 December 1982. Before 1949, British citizens were called British subjects and in the modern day are referred to as British citizens.

Using CUKC to gain British nationality

If a person held the status of citizen of the UK and colonies before 1983, one needs to determine what happened to this person's status one or both of the following dates:

  • On the day that the former British territory from which this status was derived became independent
  • On 1 January 1983

The British Nationality Act 1948 provided for a new status of citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies (CUKC), consisting of all those British subjects who had a close relationship (either through birth or descent) with the United Kingdom and its remaining colonies. Each other Commonwealth country did likewise and also established its own citizenship (with the exception of Newfoundland, which had different arrangements).

The Act also provided that British subjects could be known by the alternative title Commonwealth citizen.

It was originally envisaged that all British subjects would get one (or more) of the national citizenships being drawn up under the Act and that the remainder would be absorbed as CUKCs by the British government. Until they acquired one or other of the national citizenships, these people continued to be British subjects without citizenship. However, some British subjects never became citizens of any Commonwealth country.

India, Pakistan and the British Empire

Because the nationality laws of India and Pakistan did not provide for citizenship for everyone who was born in their countries, the British government refused to declare their nationality laws for the purposes of the Act. Therefore, those British subjects from these countries who did not become Indian or Pakistani citizens were never absorbed as CUKCs by the British government. They remained British subjects without citizenship.

The unique case of the Republic of Ireland

Due to the imminent withdrawal of the Republic of Ireland from the Commonwealth (which took effect 18 April 1949), special arrangements were made in section 2 of the 1948 British nationality Act to allow British subjects from Ireland to apply to continue to hold British subject status independently of the citizenship of any Commonwealth country.

Until 1983, the status of British subjects without citizenship was not affected by the acquisition of the citizenship of a non-Commonwealth country.

Acquisition of citizenship of the UK and colonies

Under the 1948 Act, CUKC status was acquired by:

  • Birth in the UK or a colony (which does not include birth in the dominions or children of enemy aliens and diplomats). The immigration status of the parents was irrelevant.
  • Naturalisation or registration in the UK or a colony or protectorate.
  • Legitimate descent from a CUKC father for children born elsewhere. Only the first generation acquired British nationality automatically. Second and subsequent generations could do so only if born outside the Commonwealth (or Ireland) and registered within 12 months of birth or if the father was in Crown service.
  • Incorporation of territory (no persons have acquired CUKC this way since 1949)
  • Declaration
  • Marriage

Provisions for acquisition of CUKC by adoption were not included in the 1948 Act itself but were added soon after.

Requirements for naturalisation or registration

Citizens of Commonwealth countries, British subjects and Irish citizens were entitled to register as citizens of the UK and colonies after one year's residence in the UK and colonies. This period was increased to five years in 1962.

Other persons were required to apply for naturalisation after five years residence.

Citizenship by descent

Prior to 1983, as a general rule, British nationality could be transmitted from only the father and parents were required to be married.

Children born in Commonwealth countries or the Republic of Ireland could not normally access British nationality if the father was British by descent.

Those born in non-Commonwealth countries of second and subsequent generations born overseas could be registered as British within 12 months of birth. However, many such children did not acquire a UK right of abode before 1983 and hence became British overseas citizens in 1983 rather than British citizens.

On 8 February 1979, the Home Office announced that overseas-born children of British mothers would generally be eligible for registration as UK citizens provided application was made before the child reached age 18. Many eligible children were not registered before their 18th birthday due to the fact this policy concession was poorly publicised. Hence it has been effectively reintroduced by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 for those aged under 18 on the date of the original announcement.

With effect from 30 April 2003, a person born outside the UK to a British mother (who was born or naturalised in the UK) may be entitled to register as a British citizen by descent if that person was born between 8 February 1961 and 31 December 1982. However, those with permanent resident status in the UK, or those entitled to right of abode, may instead prefer to seek naturalisation as a British citizen which gives transmissible British citizenship otherwise than by descent. 

Citizenship by declaration

A person who was a British subject on 31 December 1948, of United Kingdom and colonies descent in the male line, and was resident in the UK and colonies (or intending to be so resident) was entitled to acquire CUKC by declaration under section 12(6) of the Act. The deadline for this was originally 31 December 1949, but was extended to 31 December 1962 by the British Nationality Act 1958.

Citizenship by marriage

Women married to CUKCs had the right to register as CUKCs under section 6(2) of the 1948 Act.

Citizenship by adoption

Before 1950 there was generally no provision to acquire UK citizenship by adoption: 

  • Between 1 January 1950 and 31 December 1982, a person adopted in the UK by a CUKC acquired CUKC automatically if the adopter, or in the case of a joint adoption, the male adopter, was a CUKC.
  • Children adopted in the Channel Islands and Isle of Man on or after 1 April 1959 acquired CUKC on the same basis as UK adoptees on 16 July 1964, or the date of the adoption order, if later.

In general, a person acquiring CUKC by virtue of adoption in the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man, became a British citizen on 1 January 1983.

Contact our citizenship team

Phone us (SA): +27 (0) 21 657 2139

Phone us (UK): +44 (0) 20 7759 7581

South Africa

Regent Square
Doncaster Road
Kenilworth 7708
Cape Town
t: +27 (0) 21 657 2120

United Kingdom

Castlewood House
77/91 New Oxford Street
London
WC1A 1DG
t: +44 (0) 20 7759 7514

Australia

Suite 8.06
9 Yarra Street
South Yarra
Melbourne VIC 3141
t: +613 (0) 86 514 500

Hong Kong

Level 1102
The Lee Gardens
33 Hysan Avenue
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
t: +852 3959 8681

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