Applying for citizenship

Aim of this page

The aim of this page is to set out the process of applying for citizenship and how your criminal record may affect the success of your application.

It forms part of our information section on coming to (and staying) in the UK.

Why is this important?

Naturalisation is not an entitlement and a decision can only be made to grant you citizenship if you can demonstrate that you satisfy certain legal requirements and the Home Secretary thinks it right to naturalise you.

The criteria will differ depending on your circumstances but it’s important to know what your chance of success will be. The process can be expensive and, if your application is refused, you will not receive a full refund.

Do you qualify for citizenship?

If you’re married to or the civil partner of a British citizen

You should meet the following legal requirements before you apply:

  • Are aged 18 or over when you apply
  • Are married to or the civil partner of a British citizen on the date of application
  • Are of sound mind, so that you understand the step you are taking
  • Can communicate in English (or Welsh or Scottish Gaelic) to an acceptable degree
  • Have sufficient knowledge about life in the UK
  • Are of good character
  • Have lived in the UK for a minimum of 3 years before you apply and meet the residence requirements.

If you’re NOT married to or the civil partner of a British citizen

You should meet the following legal requirements before you apply:

  • Are aged 18 or over when you apply
  • Are of sound mind, so that you understand the step you are taking
  • Intend to continue to live in the UK, or to continue in Crown service, the service of an international organisation of which the UK is a member or the service of a company or association established in the UK
  • Can communicate in English (or Welsh or Scottish Gaelic) to an acceptable degree
  • Have sufficient knowledge about life in the UK
  • Are of good character
  • Have lived in the UK for a minimum of 5 years before you apply and meet the residence requirements.

EEA nationals

If you’re a national of a country which is a member state of the EEA or Switzerland, or the family member of such a person, you will automatically have permanent residence status for any continuous period of 5 years. You should apply for a permanent residence card to prove that you hold that status before applying for citizenship. You can find further information on EU nationals coming to and staying in the UK.

Will a criminal record affect your application?

If you have received a conviction in the UK or overseas, within the relevant sentence threshold you are unlikely to receive citizenship and your application fee will not be fully refunded. There will be a check with the police and other authorities so you’ll need to disclose details of all your convictions, both spent and unspent.

Similarly, if you have been charged with a criminal offence and are awaiting trial or sentencing, it is advisable not to make any citizenship application until the outcome is known.

Notes:

  1. A suspended prison sentence will be treated as a “non-custodial offence, or other out of court disposal that is recorded on a person’s criminal record”. The exception is where the sentence is subsequently ‘activated’.
  2. Sentences imposed overseas will normally be treated as if they occurred in the UK.
  3. A single, non-custodial sentence may be disregarded providing it did not occur in the final 12 months of your residential qualifying period, if there are strong mitigating factors which would suggest that you are of good character in all other regards and the decision to refuse you citizenship would be disproportionate. Offences involving dishonesty, drugs, violence or sexual offences would not be disregarded. Drink driving offences, driving uninsured or disqualified would also not be disregarded.

The Windrush scheme

If you arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971 and do not have documentation confirming your immigration status, you may now face difficulties in proving your right to work and to access the benefits and services to which you are entitled.

In early 2018, the Government set up the Windrush scheme to assist Caribbean nationals to navigate the immigration system and apply for citizenship. The Windrush scheme applies to:

A person in the UK

  • A Commonwealth citizen who was either settled in the UK before 1 January 1973 and has been continuously resident in the UK since their arrival or has Right of Abode.
  • A Commonwealth citizen who was settled in the UK before 1 January 1973, whose settled status has lapsed because they left the UK for a period of more than 2 years, and who is now lawfully in the UK and who has strong ties to the UK.
  • A child of a Commonwealth citizen parent, where the child was born in the UK or arrived in the UK before the age of 18, and has been continuously resident in the UK since their birth or arrival, and the parent was settled before 1 January 1973 or has the Right of Abode (or met these criteria but is now a British Citizen).
  • A person of any nationality, who arrived in the UK before 31 December 1988 and is settled in the UK.

A person outside the UK

  • A Commonwealth citizen who was settled in the UK before 1 January 1973 but who does not have a document confirming their Right of Abode or settled status, or whose settled status has lapsed because they left the UK for a period of more than 2 years.

Is a criminal record going to cause a problem?

A statement issued by the Home Office has confirmed that a number of Caribbean nationals who came to the UK between 1948 and 1971 would not qualify for citizenship because they failed to meet the ‘necessary good character requirement’ due to committing criminal offences.

We’re keeping a close eye on how criminal records might be affecting people applying through the Windrush scheme. If you have any experiences, do let us know.

Discuss with others

Read and share your experiences on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

  • Home Office – A Government department responsible for immigration, security and law and order

More information

  1. For practical information – More information on coming to (and staying) in the UK
  2. To discuss this with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  3. Questions – If you have any questions about this you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this page (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord.
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