Categories of British nationality

British Nationality Act 1981

The British Nationality Act 1981 (BNA 1981) superseded all previous nationality laws of the UK. It divided British nationals into the following categories:

  • British citizens;
  • British overseas territories citizens;
  • British overseas citizens;
  • British subjects.

The following two categories were not covered by BNA 1981 but nevertheless are types of British nationality.

  • British protected persons;
  • British nationals (overseas).

A British citizen can live and work in the UK free of any immigration controls. British overseas territories citizens, British overseas citizens, British subjects, British protected persons and British nationals (overseas) can hold a British passport and get consular assistance and protection from UK diplomatic posts, but are subject to immigration controls (they don’t have the automatic right to live or work in the UK) and they aren’t considered a UK national by the EU.

British citizens

If you were born in the UK or a British colony before 1 January 1983, you became a British citizen on 1 January 1983 if you were a citizen of the UK and Colonies (CUKC) on 31 December 1982 and you had the ‘right of abode’ in the UK. A right of abode means you don’t need permission from an immigration officer to enter the UK and you can live and work in the UK without restriction. This includes people who were born in a British colony and had the ‘right of abode’ in the UK, as well as those who:

  • were born in the UK;
  • have been naturalised in the UK;
  • had registered as a CUKC;
  • could prove legitimate descent from a father to whom one of these applies.

If you were born in the UK on or after 1 January 1983, you’ll be a British citizen if one of your parents was a British citizen and ‘settled’ in the UK when you were born. Settled means you can stay in the UK without any time restrictions. This includes people who have one of the following:

  • right of abode;
  • indefinite leave to remain;
  • permanent residence as an European Economic Area (EEA) national.

You’ll usually be a British citizen if one of your parents was born in the UK or naturalised there at the time of your birth. If you were born before July 2006, your father’s British nationality will normally only pass to you if he was married to your mother when you were born.

You automatically became a British citizen on 21 May 2002 if your British overseas territories citizenship was gained by connection with a qualifying territory. These are: Anguilla; Bermuda; British Antarctic Territory; British Indian Ocean Territory; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Pitcairn Islands; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; Turks and Caicos Islands.

British overseas territories citizens

If you were born before 1 January 1983 you became a British overseas territories citizen on 1 January 1983 if: you were a CUKC on 31 December 1982, and you had connections with a British overseas territory because you, your parents or your grandparents were born, registered or naturalised in that British overseas territory.

You also became a British overseas territories citizen if you were a woman married to a man who became a British overseas territories citizen on 1 January 1983.

If you were born on or after 1 January 1983, you’re a British overseas territories citizen if: you were born in a British overseas territory; and when you were born one of your parents was a British overseas territories citizen or legally settled in a British overseas territory.

You’re also a British overseas territories citizen if: you were adopted in an overseas territory by a British overseas territories citizen; or you were born outside the overseas territory to a parent who gained British overseas territories citizenship in their own right.

British overseas citizens

You became a British overseas citizen on 1 January 1983 if: you were a CUKC on 31 December 1982; and you didn’t become either a British citizen or a British overseas territories citizen.

You may be able to register as a British overseas citizen if you’re stateless (not recognised by any country as having a nationality) and you were born in the UK or an overseas territory; and one of your parents is a British overseas citizen.

You may also be able to register if you’re stateless and:

  • you were born outside the UK and qualifying territories; and
  • one of your parents is a British overseas citizen; and
  • you’ve lived in the UK or an overseas territory for three years or more.

A child under 18 can be registered as a British overseas citizen in special circumstances.

British subjects

You became a British subject on 1 January 1983 if, until then, you were: a British subject without citizenship (ie, you were a British subject on 31 December 1948 who didn’t become a CUKC, a Commonwealth country, Pakistan or the Republic of Ireland); or someone who had been a citizen of the Republic of Ireland on 31 December 1948 and had made a claim to remain a British subject.

You also became a British subject on 1 January 1983 if you were a woman who registered as a British subject on the basis of your marriage to a man in one of these categories.

A child may be a British subject if they were born on or after 1 January 1983 in the UK or a British overseas territory and:

  • one of their parents is a British subject; and
  • neither parent is a British citizen, British overseas territories citizen or British overseas citizen; and
  • they would be stateless without British subject status.

British protected persons

You became a British protected person on 1 January 1983 if you: were a citizen or national of Brunei; were already a British protected person; or would otherwise have been born stateless in the UK or an overseas territory because, when you were born, one of your parents was a British protected person.

British nationals (overseas)

If you were a British overseas territories citizen by connection with Hong Kong, you could register as a British national (overseas) before 1 July 1997. British overseas territories citizens from Hong Kong who didn’t register as British nationals (overseas) and had no other nationality or citizenship on 30 June 1997 became British overseas citizens on 1 July 1997.