Five ways you didn’t know you

Five ways you didn’t know you could claim British citizenship

Many South Africans have, or know someone who has, claimed British citizenship through their parents or through naturalisation. What many South Africans aren’t aware of is that there are over 100 ways to claim British citizenship. Thousands of citizens in former British territories are eligible and they don’t even know it.

Five ways you didn’t know you

Many claims to British citizenship rely on legislation stretching back 50 years or more. While there are numerous routes to citizenship, we have highlighted five of the most interesting below. By the end of this article, you might find that you have a claim to British citizenship.

Extraordinary ways to claim British citizenship

1.      Crown service

If you were born before 1 January 1983 and one of your parents was in Crown Service at the time of your birth, or if you were born after 1 January 1983 and one of your grandfathers was in Crown Service when your parent was born, you may be able to claim British citizenship. In order for this connection to be of significance, the relevant parent or grandparent must have been either recruited in the UK, or deemed to have been recruited in the UK for the job.

It’s equally important that the relevant parent or grandparent held some form of British nationality at the time of the next generation’s birth, as it would not be possible to pass a status by descent if the relative did not hold the status to begin with. Qualifying for citizenship in this way is quite extraordinary, as those most commonly affected are those whose parents acquired their own status by descent, and the usual legislation wouldn’t allow that status to be transferrable.

Crown service includes service in the following organisations, amongst many others:

  • British military
  • Overseas civil service
  • Colonial service
  • Salvation Army
  • British South African Police
  • Red Cross
  • Church Army
  • Diplomatic Corp
  • Recognised international organisations

If you have an ancestor who worked for the British government in any capacity, you should consider having a professional look at your family tree. You may just be eligible!

2.      Adoption

If you were adopted outside of the UK, you can rely on your biological parents for a claim to British citizenship. If you were adopted before 1983 by a UK-born parent and you have a connection to a Commonwealth country (other than South Africa), you could be eligible for a status called “UK Right of Abode”. The Right of Abode is essentially the next best thing to British citizenship.

Prospects are promising for a child who has at least one adoptive parent who is a British citizen at the time of the adoption court order. Adoption in cases where neither parent is a British citizen at the time of the adoption are more complicated, and you should approach a British nationality expert to decide how best to proceed.

3.      Children of unmarried fathers

Before July 2006, if your parents were unmarried at the time of your birth, it was not possible to claim British citizenship through your UK-born father. However, on 1 July 2006, this outdated legislation was updated and claims were made possible regardless of the parents’ marital status at the time. Additionally, during 2014, the Home Office made a further amendment to their older legislation allowing those who were disadvantaged before July 2006 to acquire citizenship through a UK-born father where the parents weren’t married at the time of the applicant’s birth. In order for this claim to be possible, one would need to prove their relationship to their father.

You can now claim British citizenship through your UK-born father, regardless of your parents’ marital status at the time of your birth.

4.      Statelessness

Someone who is stateless is someone who doesn’t have any form of nationality. This usually arises at birth, where the laws of the country of birth and the status of the parents mean the child cannot acquire the nationality of their country of birth or their parents’ nationality.

In these circumstances, it may be possible to register as a British citizen. It’s very important to address this before the child who is stateless turns 18. Adults who are stateless will have a much harder time claiming British citizenship.

5.      Paternal grandfather born in the UK

If you were born on or after 1 January 1949 to a mother who was married to a British man before this date, you may be eligible for British citizenship. This is an obscure claim which stems from the paternal grandfather’s birth in the UK, but allows a claim through the mother, who effectively acquired the status by being married to a British man before a certain date.

Believe it or not, these claims are also possible through a mother’s previous marriage. So, if your mother was previously married to a British man, you may still have a claim to citizenship. This claim technically comes from someone outside of your family tree, but it’s a valid claim nonetheless. It should be noted that you will still need to have a grandparent who was born in the UK, however this doesn’t have to be a paternal grandparent.

The usual claims

These are the claims we deal with most often. They are particularly popular with South Africans.

Citizenship by descent

If you have a parent or grandparent who was born in the UK, you can claim citizenship through descent or double-descent. You may also have a claim if your British parent or grandparent was born outside of the UK. In the case of a child, it is usually vital to apply for citizenship before they turn 18. Once they turn 18, several rights to British citizenship fall away.


You can naturalise as a British citizen by spending a qualifying period of time living in the UK. You must have lived in the UK for three to five years without long absences to qualify. You will also need to have held indefinite leave to remain status for the 12 months preceding your citizenship application. Those married to British citizens can usually apply as soon as they have indefinite leave to remain and would not be required to wait until they’ve held the status for 12 months.

Are you eligible for British citizenship?

If you’re interested in exploring your claim, or if you have some kind of family connection to the UK, book your place at our British citizenship seminars this November. Philip Gamble, a leading expert in complex British nationality law, will be holding the series of free seminars in Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London and Cape Town later this month.

The seminars will cover all the ins and outs of UK immigration and British citizenship. After the presentation, there will be an in-depth Q&A session where Philip will be available to answer any of your specific questions.

To book your place at one of the seminars click here