New nationality changes on the cards for the UK – what South Africans should know

The UK government is considering a new piece of legislation meant to combat the historical unfairness and injustice in earlier British nationality law, says Mishal Patel, director at Sable International.

Patel said that historically some people had been blocked from gaining access to British citizenship as their ancestors born in the UK were women or were born out of marriage.

The potential change will mean that if your parents or your grandparents would have received British citizenship, were it not for that gender discrimination – and if you can prove that – you could be in line to receive British citizenship.

“The good thing about these new provisions is there is no age limit. Whereas currently, there is a section in the British Nationality Act, which gives the home secretary full discretion to register any child that he or she thinks qualifies, but the application has to be put in while they’re under 18,” Patel said.

“This is the first time that we’re seeing the Home Office take it upon themselves to introduce a section that actually gives broad powers of discretion to the Home Secretary to register someone, even though they’re over 18.”

Patel gave an example of South Africans that could benefit from the change:

  • If they were born in South Africa, while their mother was born in a British Overseas Territory;
  • If they were born in South Africa but had a UK-born grandfather and Zambian mother;
  • Born out of marriage to a British Overseas Territory father.

Patel said that the legislation was still some way from becoming law and had only passed two stages of a 12-stage process.

“So I think, given that from July we’ve already got through two stages, I feel that sort of this time next year it should be an Act of Parliament. That’s where my money is.

“I think it’s very likely to go through. I think the intention of parliament is strong here. Let’s not forget that the UK has been trying to correct historical wrongs in British nationality legislation for the past 30 years or so. You know, it tried to correct those wrongs as early as 1979 – allowing children born to British mothers to be registered at discretion in 1979. ”

Patel said that Sable would publish guidelines on applying for citizenship when the new rules are formalised. You can find out more about planned changes on Sable International’s podcast here.


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New nationality changes on the cards for the UK – what South Africans should know