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British Citizenship for Children: A Guide from KIND UK

In this guide:

> 1. British Citizenship

  • What is British Citizenship
  • An overview of Routes to British Citizenship
  • Not Eligible for British Citizenship Yet?
  • Case Examples

2. Discretionary Citizenship

3. The Illegal Migration Act (2023)

4. The Good Character Requirement

5. Useful Resources & More Information

1.1 What is British Citizenship

Having British citizenship means that the UK is your home, and you have the right to live, work and belong here. It comes with many rights and benefits, including:

  • The right to live and work in the UK forever
  • The right to hold a British passport
  • Free NHS medical care
  • Unrestricted entry to the UK and ability to travel abroad
  • The right to vote in UK elections and stand for public office

How much does British citizenship Cost?
Most children who must register in order to become British citizens have to pay an application fee of £1,214, even if they were born in the UK or brought to the UK as babies or very young children.

In June 2022, the government introduced a fee waiver policy. Children in care are exempt from the application fee. Other children who cannot afford to pay the fee can apply for a fee waiver.

Get good legal advice!
We strongly advise seeking specialist legal advice to find out if an application for citizenship is likely to succeed.

British nationality law is complex and it is important to submit the right documents to support an application. KIND UK has assisted hundreds of children to apply for British citizenship. 99% of KIND UK cases have been successful.

1.2 An Overview of Routes to Citizenship

These are some of the routes to citizenship for children under the British Nationality Act 1981:

British at birth: Children born in the UK are automatically British citizens at birth if they have a parent who was British or ‘settled’ (permanent residence or indefinite leave to remain) in the UK before the child was born.

British by entitlement: Children who are born in the UK but who are not automatically British citizens at birth can become British citizens if:

  • they have lived in the UK for the first 10 years of their life (can apply at any age), or
  • one of their parents has acquired British citizenship or ‘settled’ in the UK (must apply before 18th birthday), or
  • if they are and always have been stateless (not considered a citizen of any country) and have lived in the UK for the past 5 years (must apply before 22nd birthday)

There are also continuous residency, good character, and other requirements for some of these categories.

British by adoption: Children can automatically become British citizens if they are formally adopted by a British citizen, via an approved adoption procedure, in certain circumstances. In some circumstances, adopted children must apply to register as British citizens.

Discretionary route: Other children who have a strong connection to the UK may be eligible for British citizenship.

  • For more information please see the full Discretionary Citizenship section of this guide here.

1.3 The Illegal Migration Act

The Illegal Migration Act became law on 20 July 2023. It changes whether those who entered the UK irregularly from 7 March 2023 and not coming directly from a country where their life and liberty were threatened can acquire leave to remain or British citizenship.

Those affected include but are not limited to: adults, children in the care of an adult, children not in the care of an adult, and victims of trafficking.

  • For more information please see the full Illegal Migration Act section of this guide here.

1.4 The ‘Good Character Requirement’

Most children and adults applying for British citizenship have to show they are of ‘good character’ if they are 10 or older (but not if applying on the grounds of statelessness).

There is no fixed definition of what ‘good character’ means, but a range of things are considered, including evidence of ‘good character’ as well as serious bad actions, criminal offences, and the child’s best interests.

  • For more information, please see the full Good Character Requirement section of this guide here.

1.5 Not Eligible for British Citizenship Yet?

Some children and young people living in the UK who are not British citizens may need to apply for permission to stay before applying for citizenship. 

There are various options, depending on age, how long they have lived in the UK, and other circumstances. These include:

  • Permission to stay as a child who has lived in the UK for 7 years, if it would be unreasonable to expect the child to leave the UK
  • Permission to stay as a child in care
  • Permission to stay as a young person (age 18-24) who has lived in the UK more than half their life. 
  • There may be other options too! More info here and here.

Permission to stay Vs British Citizenship

Children can apply for British citizenship as soon as they become eligible. 

This may be soon after being granted permission to stay, or it may be when they reach age 10, when they have lived in the UK for several years, when a parent becomes British or settled, or based on some other change of circumstance. 

It is not always necessary that a child has permission to stay in the UK before they are eligible for British citizenship. Adults are often eligible to naturalise as British citizens after a year with indefinite leave to remain. 

1.6 Case Examples

All names have been changed to protect privacy.


British at birth but complicated to prove

Lena was born outside the UK and came to the UK as a toddler in 2010, with her mum, Maria, and older brother, Jon.

They entered the UK without any immigration status. Lena’s father was already living in the UK and had a complicated immigration history. Maria thought he had British citizenship, but she didn’t have access to his full immigration and nationality records. He suffers from long-term serious mental health issues and has abused Maria and the children numerous times.

Because there was no evidence of whether Lena’s father had British citizenship at the time of her birth, Lena was treated as non-British and having no leave to remain in the UK upon arrival.

The abuse by her father and the instability of her family’s situation affected Lena’s mental health. She started to self-harm and eventually was admitted to hospital, where she disclosed previous self-harm and suicide attempts.

Their solicitor assisted them to submit applications for leave to remain in 2021, and these were granted. Lena’s application was based on her having lived in the UK as a child for more than 7 years.

After they had leave to remain, they were able to obtain evidence that Lena’s father was British at the time of her birth. Lena was British at birth, by descent through her father.

Lena now has a British passport.


Discretionary route to citizenship

Ana’s mum settled in the UK and naturalised as a British citizen. Ana came to live in the UK at age 11. She had indefinite leave to enter, which means there was no time limit on how long she could stay.
Sadly, Ana’s mum was not able to take care of her properly, and she was taken into care by a local authority at age 14.

KIND UK began assisting Ana when she was pregnant and living in supported accommodation at age 17.

She had no documents to prove her immigration status. She was not entitled to British citizenship on a statutory basis because she was not born in the UK. But she had lived in the UK for 6 years and had strong ties to the UK, so she could apply for citizenship on a discretionary basis.

Her citizenship application had to be made urgently, because this route would have been lost after her 18th birthday. Her solicitors helped get documents proving her status and helped her apply for British citizenship.

Ana was granted British citizenship.

Ebo and Atu

10 year route (Ebo) and discretionary route (Atu)

Atu was born in the UK in 2007. His younger brother, Ebo, was born a few years later. Their parents, Emma and David, are from another country but had permission to stay in the UK when Atu and Ebo were born. Later, they overstayed their visas due to some very difficult circumstances. When Atu was quite young, he went to live with his grandmother in another country for an extended time. Ebo, who has had serious health issues, has lived in the UK his entire life.   

When the family was referred to KIND UK, none of the family had permission to stay. By this time, Emma had split up from the boys’ dad. Atu was over age 10, but he didn’t have an entitlement to British citizenship because he had lived outside the UK for longer than permitted before he was 10.

Ebo was not yet 10, so he didn’t have an entitlement to British citizenship either. The solicitors helping them advised that it would be best to first apply for permission to stay in the UK for Atu, Ebo, and Emma, under an Immigration Rule that allows children and their families to stay in the UK if they have lived here for more than 7 years and it is unreasonable to expect them to leave. These applications were successful.  

After Ebo was 10 years old, the solicitors helped Ebo apply for British citizenship, on the 10-year route. His application was granted. 

Later, the solicitors helped Atu apply for British citizenship, on a discretionary basis, based on his long residence and strong ties to the UK. Atu’s citizenship application was granted in October 2023.