Many EU nationals have lived and worked in the UK for substantial periods of time. Enjoying the benefit of the principle of free movement of workers, they have not had to be concerned about requirements relating to residence, citizenship and the right to work that apply to workers from outside the EU.
These individuals, their families and their employers are now asking questions about how best to ensure that they can continue to live and work in the UK after withdrawal from the EU.
The final shape of any withdrawal agreement is some way off and at least some parts of the ‘Leave’ campaign have indicated a desire to preserve the rights of those EU citizens already living and working in the UK. In the meantime, however, EU nationals anxious to preserve their current status may wish to consider applying for UK citizenship. This guide provides a high level overview of the rules on eligibility and the application process.
Who can apply?
The most common process for seeking British citizenship is naturalisation under section 6 of the British Nationality Act 1981.
Individuals: You are eligible if you:
- are over 18;
- are of good character (i.e. have no serious or recent criminal record and have committed no immigration offences in the last 10 years);
- will continue to live in the UK;
- have met the knowledge of English language and life in the UK requirements (see below); and
- meet the residence requirements, meaning that they must normally:
- have lived in the UK for at least the five years before the date of the application;
- have spent no more than 450 days outside the UK during those five years, and no more than 90 days in the last 12 months; and
- have been granted permanent residence as an EEA national.
Spouses and Civil Partners: There are different requirements for people whose spouse or civil partner is already a British citizen. In addition to being of good character, applicants must also be of sound mind (i.e. able to make their own decisions). The English knowledge and life in the UK test requirements still apply, but the residency requirement is three years rather than five.
English language and life in the UK
Applicants must prove their knowledge of the English language. They can do so by having certain English qualifications or having a degree taught or researched in English. Applicants who are 65 or older, or who cannot prove their knowledge of English due to a long-term physical or mental condition, do not need to do so.
Applicants must also sit a ‘Life in the UK’ test. It costs £50 to take the test and it must be booked online in advance. There is an official handbook to study for the test and the test itself lasts 45 minutes and consists of 24 questions about British traditions and customs. The pass mark is 75%. There is no expiry date on the test, so an application for British citizenship may be made at any time after successful completion of the test.
Applicants for British citizenship by naturalisation may be made by:
- submitting an individual application – a link to the relevant form is available here, together with guidance notes and a requirements booklet explaining how to complete the form and which documents must be provided. Details of where to send applications are available here;
- using the Nationality Checking Service (NCS). This is a service run by local authorities which helps with the application process. Only some local authorities offer NCS; in Scotland, they can be found in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Fife, Hamilton and Rutherglen; or
- using an agent or representative to help with the application and give advice. Lists of approved immigration advisers are available here.
Applications are subject to a fee and applicants must provide their biometric information (fingerprints and a photo) at additional cost.
How long does it take?
The Home Office will issue a letter confirming receipt of the application, usually within 4 weeks. A decision about the application will normally be made within six months, but some applications may take longer. Applicants may be invited to attend an interview before their application is determined.
Becoming a UK citizen
The final part of the process is the citizenship ceremony, during which candidates must make an oath or affirmation of allegiance and a pledge, promising to respect the rights, freedoms and laws of the UK. There is a ceremony fee of £80. The certificate of British citizenship is presented at the end of the ceremony, along with a welcome pack.