Marriage to a British citizen does not automatically grant the non-UK spouse British citizenship.
British citizenship is attained by marriage through the process of naturalisation. This requires the non-UK spouse to meet eligibility criteria under the nationality rules and make a citizenship application to the Home Office.
Eligibility for British citizenship by marriage
To apply for British citizenship by marriage through the process of naturalisation you must satisfy all of the following criteria:
- Be aged 18 or over
- Be married or in a civil partnership with a British citizen
- Be of sound mind
- Be of good character
- Be able to communicate in English and have sufficient knowledge about life in the UK
Have lived in the UK for a minimum of 3 years before you apply and meet the residence requirements.
As a spouse of a British citizen, you can apply to naturalise as soon as you are granted Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK, a permanent residence card or settled status under the EU settlement scheme.
To satisfy the residence requirements you must not have had more than 270 days outside the UK in the 3-year period, and you must not have had more than 90 days outside the UK in the 12 months immediately preceding the date you submit the application.
Excessive absences are a common ground for citizenship refusals. If you are concerned that you have breached the threshold or may be borderline, take advice to understand the implications on your eligibility.
A further specific requirement is evidencing that you were present in the UK exactly 3 years before the date the Home Office receives your application.
You must also be free from immigration restrictions at the time of making your application, and not have been in breach of the immigration rules during the whole of the residential qualifying period.
The Koll requirement
Applying for British citizenship involves a commitment to respect the laws, values and traditions of the UK. The ability to communicate in English, as well having knowledge of life in the UK, forms an integral part of this commitment.
You can satisfy the KoLL requirement by passing the ‘Life in the UK’ test at an approved test centre, together with providing proof of either a UK degree or other academic qualification deemed to be equivalent to a UK qualification taught or researched in English, or an approved English speaking and listening qualification.
You will not be required to satisfy the language element where you are a national of a majority English speaking country, for example, America or Australia, but you will still have to pass the Life in the UK test.
You may also be wholly exempt from the language and life in the UK requirement if you are aged 65 or over, or have a long-term physical or mental condition that prevents you from meeting this requirement.
You must be of sound mind, such that you understand the step you are taking when applying for British citizenship by marriage. Where an applicant is not of sound mind, the Home Secretary has the discretion to waive this requirement in certain circumstances.
If you are completing an application on behalf of your spouse who is not of sound mind and for whom you are responsible, you will need to explain the applicant’s mental condition, the fact that they are in your care and the reasons why it is in the applicant’s best interests to be granted British citizenship, despite their inability to understand fully what is involved.
You will also need to provide documentary evidence in support of the applicant’s mental condition and their care arrangements.
To satisfy the good character requirement you must have shown respect for the rights and freedoms of the UK, observed its laws, and fulfilled your obligations as a resident of the UK. This includes not having a recent or serious criminal record.
Here the Home Office will apply a sentence-based threshold. By way of example, an application for British citizenship will normally be refused for any custodial sentence of more than 4 years, or for any non-custodial sentence where the conviction occurred within the last 3 years.
Your application for British citizenship by marriage may also be refused if you have been guilty of an immigration offence in the last 10 years, for example, illegally entering the UK or assisting someone in so doing.
You will be unable to apply for citizenship as the spouse of a British citizen if your British citizen spouse has died. Take advice on your circumstances as you may qualify under alternative routes.
British citizenship by marriage application process
Provided you meet the eligibility criteria, you can proceed to submit your naturalisation application form online.
You should then be asked to make an appointment at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point to provide your biometric information, ie; a scan of your fingerprints and a digital photograph of your face.
You will need to provide extensive documentation in support of your application, including your spouse or civil partner’s current passport or naturalisation/registration certificate showing that they are a British citizen, together with your marriage certificate or civil partnership certificate.
Your application must also be endorsed by two referees, whereby one referee must be a person of any nationality who has professional standing, such as a minister of religion, civil servant or a member of a professional body, for example, accountant or solicitor, and the other referee must be the holder of a British citizen passport and either a professional person or over the age of 25.
If you have previously enrolled your biometric details and been issued with a biometric residence permit, you must include this with your application. You will not be issued with a new permit, but your current biometric permit will be returned to you.
You will usually get a decision on your application for British citizenship by marriage within 6 months, although some applications can take longer.
In the event that your application is successful you will have 90 days in which to attend a Home Office citizenship ceremony.
At the ceremony you will be asked to affirm or swear an oath of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen and to pledge your loyalty to the UK. Attending the ceremony is a legal requirement such that if you do not attend, without good reason, your application for British citizenship will be refused and you will need to re-apply.
Following the ceremony you will be presented with your certificate of naturalisation under British citizenship by marriage. Please note, you must send your biometric residence permit back to the Home Office within 5 working days of getting your certificate of British citizenship, otherwise risk a fine of £1,000.