British Nationality and Children

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British Nationality and Children

Kinley Legal has previously published articles about adult British citizenship and citizenship by descent. This article is the third in our nationality series, with a focus on British nationality for children under the age of 18.

When is a child considered British?

British nationality law is amongst the most complicated in the world. To assess whether a child is automatically British or entitled to register as a British citizen, multiple factors, including the child’s date and place of birth, the relationship between the child’s parents and their immigration or nationality status must be considered.

For example, it may surprise you that a child born in the Isle of Man (or the United Kingdom or another qualifying territory) is not automatically a British citizen. This is particularly unusual to those from countries like the USA, where this is a core principle in citizenship law.

The position was quite different before the introduction of the British Nationality Act 1981, but nowadays much will depend on the circumstances of the child’s parents at the time of the child’s birth.

If the child’s parents are not British citizens or settled in the Isle of Man (or the UK or other qualifying territories) when the child is born, the child is not British by birth. There are some exceptions in respect of children of EEA nationals.

Conversely, a child who is born outside the Isle of Man (or UK or other qualifying territory) to a British parent otherwise than be descent is normally able to acquire British citizenship by descent automatically.  

What if a child is not automatically a British national?

In some circumstances a child will be British automatically but if this is not the case for your child, they may still be eligible to apply for registration as a British citizen.

This would be the case, for example, where a child was born in the Isle of Man to parents who, at the time, were neither settled nor themselves British citizens but who have since attained that status.  In this case, the child would be entitled to register for British nationality.

Registration is also possible for children (even those over 18 years) who have spent a considerable period of their lives living in the Isle of Man (or the UK or qualifying territories).

For children born overseas to a parent who is British by descent (and who cannot normally pass this citizenship down a further generation), the door is open for registration as British if their parent had previously lived in the Isle of Man (or UK or another qualifying territory) for a qualifying period before the child was born.

Similarly, a child born abroad to a parent who is British by descent but who now lives in the Isle of Man and meets the residence requirements can also register.    

Is there any flexibility in the rules in respect of child registration?

The scenarios above are illustrative, and do not set out every possible scenario.

The rules allow for discretionary applications to be made in respect of children. With so many variations on the possible circumstances, it is always worth speaking to a professional nationality expert to determine if your child would be eligible.

Just a few examples of the circumstances where discretionary registration may be possible include:

  • historical unfairness regarding the gender and/or marital status of a child’s parents;
  • adopted children;
  • children born to a parent who has renounced British citizenship; and
  • children born to a parent who does not want to become a British citizen (for instance, if their country of current nationality does not allow dual or multiple citizenship).

Each case is decided on its individual merits, taking all the relevant factors into account. A professional nationality expert can help you to make sense of the myriad of rules and policy guidelines and objectively consider your child’s circumstances and advise on the appropriate course of action.

Exceptional and compelling circumstances

Where there are exceptional and compelling circumstances in relation to a child, it may also be possible to apply for discretionary registration as a British citizen. Determining what constitutes “exceptional and compelling” can be difficult but there are several factors, including a child’s best interests and their future intentions, that can be taken into account.

Kinley Legal’s nationality and immigration lawyers are experienced in assessing whether a child is already a British citizen, and if not, whether they are eligible to register as one. Kinley Legal can also advise on and prepare registration applications. We can also advise on first passport applications and the supporting documents and information required.

Contact us

If you would like to make an appointment for a call, in-person meeting or online meeting to discuss your child’s situation please get in touch by e-mail at nationality@kinleylegal.com or complete our simple contact form, and we would be pleased to help.