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Adults who wish to become British citizens can apply for naturalisation. This refers to the legal process by which an adult non-citizen acquires citizenship of a country. It is the process used by foreign citizens who have immigrated to the UK and chosen to settle here and become British citizens. The law on naturalisation is set out in the British Nationality Act 1981(as amended) which came into force on 1 January 1983. The British Nationality Act 1981 (as amended) replaced the British Nationality Act 1948.

There are other methods of obtaining British citizenship and the appropriate method or pathway depends on an individual’s circumstances. The other methods are: acquisition by birth, acquisition by descent, and registration. Registration is the method under which children may apply to become British citizens.

This briefing only addresses obtaining citizenship by naturalisation. Although some of the concepts addressed may be common to registration as a British citizen, these issues are only considered in the context of naturalisation.

The current fee for naturalisation is £1,330. This includes an £80 contribution to the applicant’s citizenship ceremony.

The pathway to naturalisation is theoretically more favourable for the spouses and/or civil partners of British citizens. This is because the British Nationality Act 1981 allows for such spouses to apply after 3 years lawful residence while non-spouses require 5 years residence. Spouses can also apply as soon as they are free from immigration control whereas non-spouses are required to be free from immigration control for 12 months preceding an application. However, it generally takes 5 years for a migrant to become free of immigration control regardless of whether they are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen.  This is the same for migrants from within the European Union and those from non-EU countries, with the exception of Irish citizens with British spouses/civil partners.

According to immigration statistics there were 109,275 grants of citizenship by naturalisation in 2018.

The UK permits British citizens to be dual citizens. This means that a British citizen can hold British citizenship concurrently with citizenship(s) of other countries. However not all countries allow for dual citizenship for their citizens and acquiring British citizenship may lead to loss of an existing citizenship.

This briefing sets out the current requirements for applications for naturalisation as a British citizen at the time of writing. It provides some historical information as context.

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