Thousands of South Africans could qualify for British citizenship – what you should know

The UK is opening new routes to British citizenship for thousands of people who may previously not have qualified, says specialist migration firm Sable International.

The changes mean that if you have a parent, grandparent or great grandparent born in the UK or a former British territory, you could now have a claim to British citizenship.

The British Nationality and Borders Act 2021, which received Royal Assent on 28 April 2022, has far-reaching effects, said Mishal Patel, director of Citizenship and Immigration at Sable International.

“In the past, many have been denied nationality rights from their maternal line because there has been no change in the law. If you can prove that you, your parents or your grandparents would have received British citizenship under this new law, were it not for that gender discrimination, you can now receive your British citizenship.”

Examples of these types of discrimination are:

  • Gender discrimination in previous British nationality law

The new law is meant to combat the historical unfairness and injustice in earlier British nationality laws.

In the past, if your ancestors, who were born in the UK, were women, you as their descendant were not able to become a British citizen.

  • British citizenship by descent for those born out of wedlock

Historically, you could not claim British citizenship through your father if your parents weren’t married at the time of your birth.

This discrimination was partly fixed in legislation that came into effect on 1 July 2006. If you were born after that date, the fact that your parents weren’t married is not relevant. However, with this new legislation coming into effect, people born before 1 July 2006 no longer have to make a special application for citizenship.

“These legislative changes will also apply to those who could have claimed British Overseas Territories citizenship (BOTC) had this discrimination not been in place. By becoming British Overseas Territory citizens, they would then be allowed to become full British citizens in certain situations.

“Simply put, if you would be a British Overseas Territory citizen if your parents had been married, you will now be able to make this claim,” said Patel.


What does this mean for British nationality going forward?

While the law is complex and, in some circumstances, relevant events could span many generations, Patel noted any of the following apply, you could have a claim if:

  • You were married before 1 January 1983 to a spouse who could (or should) have been British;
  • You have a UK-born grandmother and were born before 1 January 1988 in a country defined as a “foreign country” (which included South Africa after 30 May 1962);
  • You have a UK-born grandmother, and your relevant parent spent at least three years in the UK before your birth;
  • You were born between 1 January 1949 and 31 December 1982 and have a grandparent (but not a paternal grandfather) born in the UK.

“The examples above represent a tiny proportion of the solutions available and so it is vital that you complete our free British Citizenship Assessment to determine if you have a potential claim,” Patel said.

As a general rule, you should explore your rights to British nationality if you:

  • Were adopted;
  • Have a UK-born grandparent or great grandparent;
  • Have a parent or grandparent born in a former British territory;
  • Were married before 1983 to a person who had a family link back to the UK or a former British territory.

It is expected that this new law’s commencement date will be later this year, around October, Patel said.


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Thousands of South Africans could qualify for British citizenship – what you should know