British Overseas Territories
Can you claim British Nationality?
Getting a British passport might be easier than you think. Thanks to the UK's historical laws and agreements with former territories, you may qualify for British nationality depending on where you, your parents and grandparents were born.
You could be eligible for British citizenship if you were:
- Born to a parent (a father or mother) who was born in the UK before 1983.
- Born before 1983 to a parent who was born after 1949 – as long as that parent a) was a British Citizen, or b) had a parent born in the UK.
- Born after 1948, and your parents were married before 1949 and your paternal grandfather (your dad’s dad) was born in the UK.
There are hundreds of other ways to qualify. As a general rule, if you were born in a country that is different to either parent or any of your grandparents, or you have a connection back to the UK, Ireland or a former British Territory, then you might have a claim.
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Some claims to British nationality are relatively straightforward and can be completed quickly if you meet the above requirements. Other claims can be extremely complex and can only be determined by researching old nationality laws.
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The United Kingdom administer the following territories:
- Akrotiri and Dhekelia Military Bases
- British Antarctic Territory
- British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos)
- British Virgin Islands
- Cayman Islands
- Falkland Islands
- Pitcairn Islands
- South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
- St Helena, Ascension, Gough and Tristan du Cunha Islands
- Turks and Caicos
The British Nationality Act 1981 came into force on 1 January 1983, and divided Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKCs) into three categories:
1. British Citizens
CUKC's with the Right of Abode in the United Kingdom and Islands (i.e. the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) by virtue of a close connection therewith (e.g. by birth or descent from a person born in the United Kingdom and Islands) became British Citizens.
2. British Overseas Territories Citizens
CUKCs with a close connection with one of the United Kingdom's Dependent Territories became British Overseas Territories citizens (BOTCs). It was possible for a person to acquire British citizenship and BOTC at the same time. For example, a person born in Bermuda before 1983 with a parent born in the United Kingdom would have acquired both nationalities.
3. British Overseas Citizens
All other CUKCs became British Overseas Citizens.
There are categories of British national other than these three, but these consist of persons who were not CUKCs before 1983.
British Overseas Territories Act 2002
On 26 February 2002, British Dependent Territories citizenship (BDTC) was renamed to British Overseas Territories citizenship (BOTC). The two terms have identical meaning.
British Overseas Territories citizenship is a 'citizenship' covering all the Overseas Territories. Individual overseas territories do not have their own legal nationality status. However they retain the right to make their own immigration laws and award Belonger status, and holding BOTC does not in itself give a right to reside in a British Overseas territory. This depends on a territory's immigration laws. Thus, some BOTCs have no right to live in any territory.
Similarly, it is possible to have Belonger status in a territory without necessarily being a BOTC, depending on the law of that territory. Most non-British citizens who acquire this status will normally become naturalised BOTCs, while British citizens have the option to do so if they wish.
Acquisition of British Overseas Territories Citizenship
1. Birth in a British Overseas Territory
From 1 January 1983 a person born in an Overseas Territory is a BOTC by birth if one of the person's parents is a BOTC or settled in an Overseas territory.
- only one parent must meet this requirement, either the father or the mother
- if only the father meets this requirement, the parents must be married. If the parents marry subsequent to the birth the child may acquire BOTC at that point. Failing that, it is possible for the child to be registered as a BOTC under s17(1) of the 1981 Act which deals with discretionary registration of minors.
- Settledimplies ordinarily resident without a time limit
- The parent does not have to be a BOTC connected with the same territory as the child's birth, or settled in the same territory. For example, a child born in the Falkland Islands to a parent who is a BOTC from St Helena will automatically be a BOTC by birth. However such a child will not necessarily have Belonger Status in either the Falkland Islands or St Helena unless permitted by the territory immigration laws.
- a parent who is a British citizen is not sufficient in itself for the child to be a BOTC.
A child born in an Overseas Territory may be entitled to registration as a BOTC if:
subsequent to the birth, one of the parents becomes a BOTC or settled in any Overseas Territory (not necessarily the same one). Application must be made before age 18.
the child lives in the same territory until age 10.
3. BOTC by Descent
A person born outside the Overseas Territories on or after 1 January 1983 will automatically acquire BOTC by descent if either parent is a BOTC otherwise than by descent at the time of the birth.
- only one parent needs to be a BOTC otherwise than by descent - either the father or the mother.
- an unmarried father cannot pass on BOTC automatically. Although if the parents marry subsequent to the birth the child normally will become a BOTC at that point if legitimated by the marriage and the father was eligible to pass on BOTC. Otherwise it is possible to apply for the child to be registered as a BOTC.
- where the parent is a BOTC by descent additional requirements apply. In the most common scenario, normally the parent is expected to have lived in an Overseas Territory for three years and apply for the child to be registered as a British citizen within 12 months of the birth.
- Children born overseas to parents on Crown Service under the government of an Overseas Territory are normally granted BOTC otherwise than by descent. In other words, their status is the same as it would have been had they been born in their home Territory.
- In exceptional cases, the Home Secretary or Governor of a Territory may register a child of BOTC by descent as a BOTC under discretionary provisions, for example if the child is stateless.
4. Naturalisation as a BOTC
The requirements for naturalisation as a BOTC depend on whether one is married to a BOTC or not.
For those married to a BOTC the applicant must:
- be permitted to live indefinitely in a particular territory (the relevant territory)
- have lived legally in that territory for three years
- meet specified English competence standards, or equivalent in any other language recognised for official purposes in that territory.
For those not married to a BOTC the requirements are:
- five years legal residence in the relevant territory
- permission to live in that territory indefinitely must have been held for 12 months or more
- the applicant must intend to continue to live in that territory or work elsewhere for the territory government or a corporation or association established in that territory.
- similar language standards apply as for those married to BOTC
All applicants for naturalisation must be of "good character". Naturalisation is at the discretion of the Governor the Territory but is normally granted if the requirements are met.
Access to British Citizenship
Prior to 21 May 2002 only BOTCs from the Falklands Islands and Gibraltar had automatic access to British citizenship.
On 21 May 2002 any BOTC who was not already a British citizen automatically acquired that status, with the exception of those solely connected with the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus.
Those acquiring BOTC after 21 May 2002 may normally become British citizens through one of the following routes:
Section 4A Registration
A BOTC is eligible to apply for registration as a British citizen based on his status as a BOTC under s4A of the British Nationality Act 1981 (in force from 21 May 2002) provided:
- he is not solely connected with the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus
- he has not previously renounced British citizenship
- he is of good character
Registration is discretionary but will not normally be refused unless there is a specific reason. This option confers British citizenship otherwise than by descent and hence children born subsequently outside the United Kingdom will normally have access to British citizenship.
Residence in the United Kingdom
After 5 years residence in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands or Isle of Man AND holding Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or its equivalent for at least 12 months, a BOTC may apply for registration as a British citizen under section 4 of the British Nationality Act 1981.
If married to a British citizen, it is possible to apply for naturalisation as a British citizen after 3 years residence in the United Kingdom provided ILR is held on the day of application.
This confers British citizenship otherwise than by descent however since the introduction of section 4A are usually of interest only to BOTCs from the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus.
Section 5 Registration
BOTCs by connection with Gibraltar may apply for registration as a British citizen under section 5 of the 1981 Act. Unlike section 4A registration:
- this is an entitlement and cannot be refused
- persons who have previously renounced British citizenship are eligible
- this confers British citizenship by descent
This section is relatively unused since the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 came into force, but remains part of the law.
British Citizenship by Birth in an Overseas Territory
Persons born in a British Overseas Territory after 21 May 2002 automatically acquire British citizenship (even if they do not acquire BOTC) so long as one parent is a British citizen, settled in the UK, or settled in an Overseas Territory (other than the Sovereign Base Areas of Cyprus).
Between 1 January 1983 and 20 May 2002, this provision only extended to the Falklands Islands.
BOTC Citizenship Ceremonies
With effect from 1 January 2004, all new applicants for BOTC by naturalisation or registration who are aged 18 or over must attend a citizenship ceremony and take an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen and a Pledge to the relevant Territory.
This requirement also applies to British citizens seeking to acquire BOTC. BOTCs by naturalisation after 21 May 2002 who apply for registration as a British citizen (e.g. under s4A of the 1981 Act) must attend a second citizenship ceremony to give a Pledge to the United Kingdom.
Loss of BOTC
BOTC can be lost involuntarily through:
- deprivation under conditions similar to those for British citizens
- independence of the territory concerned
The provisions for renunciation and resumption of BOTC mirror those for British citizenship. Acquisition of a foreign citizenship does not cause loss of BOTC, however it may cause loss of Belonger Status depending on the laws of the territory concerned.
The only British Dependent Territory to have become independent since 1 January 1983 is St Christopher and Nevis. St Christopher (aka St Kitts) and Nevis became an independent Commonwealth country on 19 September 1983. British citizenship was not lost by anyone who became a citizen of these countries on that date. British Dependent Territories citizenship was however lost unless there was a connection with a remaining dependent territory.
BDTCs connected solely with St. Christopher and Nevis generally lost BDTC on 19 September 1983 unless they retained ties to another Dependent Territory. Those who did not acquire St. Christopher and Nevis citizenship at independence retained BDTC status which then renamed in 2002 as BOTC.
BDTCs solely connected with Hong Kong lost that status on 1 July, 1997 upon transfer of sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China.
The status of British National Overseas (BNO) was made available before 1997 to allow Hong Kong BDTCs to opt to retain a form of British nationality. Those who did not have PRC citizenship (or any other nationality) and who had not registered as British Nationals (Overseas) became British Overseas citizens on 1 July 1997.
To close a possible loophole created in the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 which made provision to substitute the wording of "British Dependent Territories" with “British Overseas Territories” in British Nationality Act 1981 among other new provisions, further clarification was made even though the Act did not even apply to Hong Kong. Article 14 of the subsequent Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, stated specifically that a person may not be registered as a British overseas territories citizen by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong.
Future Independence Acts
Most British Overseas Territories do not wish to become independent, or have no civilian population. However independence is under discussion in some territories, most notably Bermuda.
It is likely that future legislation for loss of BOTC would mirror the 1983 provisions relating to St Christopher and Nevis. The British Government has informally indicated (in the context of discussions on the potential impact of independence in Bermuda) that in the event of independence, it would be likely that legislation would be passed to remove both British citizenship and BOTC from persons becoming Bermuda citizens who did not have specific ties to the UK or another Overseas Territory.
Delegation of Registration and Naturalisation Authority
Although powers to register or naturalise a person as a BOTC are vested in the Home Secretary, these powers are generally delegated to the Governors of Overseas Territories under s43 of the British Nationality Act 1981.
Only in exceptional cases will the Home Office in the United Kingdom register or naturalise a person as a BOTC, and in such instances the Governor of the relevant territory will be informed. Normally applications for BOTC that are received directly by the Home Office (e.g. from persons in the United Kingdom) are referred to the Governor of the relevant territory for consideration.
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