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Naturalising as a British citizen: the intention to settle requirement


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An adult who is not a British citizen can apply to become one. This process is known as naturalisation.

People will normally be eligible to apply for naturalisation under section 6 of the British Nationality Act 1981 if they:

  • are 18 or over
  • are of “good character”
  • meet the knowledge of English and life in the UK requirements
  • meet the residency requirement
  • have an intention to continue to live in the UK

This post focuses on the final requirement: intention to settle.

British citizenship applications: continuing to live in the UK

Essentially, applicants are expected to make Britain their home if they are granted citizenship. An exception is made for applicants who are married to or in a civil partnership with a British citizen. They apply under section 6(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981, and the requirements for section 6(2) applications — set out in Schedule 1, paragraph 3 of the Act — do not include an intention to settle.

For everyone else, Schedule 1, paragraph 1(1)(d) of the British Nationality Act 1981 sets out the requirement as follows:

(i) his intentions are such that, in the event of a certificate of naturalisation as a British citizen being granted to him, his home or (if he has more than one) his principal home will be in the United Kingdom; or

(ii) he intends, in the event of such a certificate being granted to him, to enter into, or continue in, Crown service under the government of the United Kingdom, or service under an international organisation of which the United Kingdom or Her Majesty’s government therein is a member, or service in the employment of a company or association established in the United Kingdom.

Detailed guidance on how the Home Office interprets the intention to settle requirement is set out in the nationality policy guidance document Naturalisation as a British citizen by discretion.

Living in the UK after naturalising as a British citizen

The Home Office will broadly take applicants at their word if they state that they intend to settle in the UK in the following circumstances:

  • they meet the residence requirements, without the need to exercise any discretion to accept excess absences, ignoring excess absences up to 30 days
  • they have an established home in the United Kingdom
  • they have been, or intend to be, absent from the United Kingdom for not more than six months
  • the absence was, or will be, clearly temporary (e.g. for a holiday or business travel)
  • if it is an intended absence, the Home Office is satisfied they intend to return to the United Kingdom
  • they have maintained an established home in the United Kingdom where any close family who have not accompanied them abroad have continued to live
  • there is no information to cast doubt on their intention, for example:
    • a spouse/partner who is, or intends to become, resident abroad; or
    • a recent (or proposed) absence from the country for a period of more than six months

Where the Home Office is considering granting an application even though the applicant does not meet the residence and absence requirements, the applicant will need to show that he or she has “an established residence, family and a substantial proportion of any estate here”.

Further investigation into principal residence outside the UK

Where the Home Office has doubts about intention to live in the UK because the above criteria are not met, further investigation will be conducted to determine whether:

  • there is evidence of a principal residence outside the UK
  • the applicant or their partner owns property abroad
  • the applicant’s family live abroad, either in the family home or elsewhere
  • the applicant has more than one home and their principal home is abroad.

Where there is such evidence, the application would normally be refused.

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The fact an applicant’s spouse or partner is not applying for naturalisation at the same time is not of itself considered by the Home Office evidence that the intention to live in the UK requirement is not met. However, further enquiries may be made and an application may be refused if it transpires that the spouse or partner:

  • is resident abroad
  • plans to reside abroad, or
  • the applicant spends substantial periods with their spouse or partner and children abroad

This will not cause refusal where the couple

  • are separated
  • the spouse or partner is seeking entry to the UK or can convince the Home Office he or she is intending to move to the UK or
  • it is clear that the couple are content to live apart for the foreseeable future.

Living outside the UK after becoming a British citizen

Where an applicant makes clear that he or she intends to live in the UK for a period but then has plans to establish their principal home abroad in future, the application will be refused.

Where an applicant is abroad or about to go abroad for six months or more an application will normally be refused, other than where

  • the applicant is undertaking voluntary work such as with the Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)
  • the applicant is undertaking studies, training or employment abroad which is necessary to pursue a UK-based profession, vocation or occupation
  • the absence forms part of an established pattern, such as in relation to employment at sea and the applicant is primarily based in the UK

Exception for those with no principal home at all

There are special provisions in place for those whose way of life or profession (e.g. international celebrities, actors, musicians) might mean that they are unable to maintain a principal home in a conventional sense.

The guidance suggests that consideration should be given to what tax they pay in the UK, the property they have in the country, how much time they spend in the UK other than when working in the UK and their personal connections to the UK.

This post is an edited extract from the Free Movement ebook “Naturalising as a British citizen: a guide“. The ebook covers all the criteria for naturalisation with worked examples of common issues. It is available to download free to members, or for £9.99 for non-members.

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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.