What is EU naturalisation?
EU naturalisation in the UK refers to the process of EU citizens applying to become British citizens.
EU citizens who have been in the UK for more than six years with lawful status can become eligible to apply for naturalisation.
Citizenship in the United Kingdom has advantages over EU Settled Status. British citizens have the right to reside indefinitely in the United Kingdom without being subject to immigration control or time limits on time overseas. As a UK citizen, it is also possible to apply for a British passport.
The rules governing eligibility for British citizenship and for the application process are strict and vary depending on the circumstances of your application.
Importantly, post-Brexit UK immigration reforms and the end of EU free movement have changed how EU nationals become eligible and apply for British citizenship.
In this guide, we explain the position pre- and post-Brexit for EU naturalisation applicants in the UK.
Post-Brexit EU naturalisation in the UK rules
EU citizens who registered and have valid, lawful status under the EU settlement scheme can become eligible to naturalise in the UK after 12 months with settled status.
Under current rules, individuals with pre-settled status are ineligible for British citizenship because they are not yet considered settled in the United Kingdom. They must first apply for full settled status after five years of continuous residence in the United Kingdom.
To apply for British citizenship with settled status, you will have to show you:
- Are at least 18 years old
- Have EU Settled Status for a minimum of one year and have resided in the United Kingdom during this time.
- Been in the United Kingdom for five years prior to the date the Home Office receives your citizenship application.
- Meet the English, Welsh, or Scottish Gaelic language requirements.
- Have successfully completed the Life in the UK test
- Be of good character
5-year lawful residency requirement
The Home Office guidance on British citizenship states that applicants must have resided in the United Kingdom for at least five years prior to their naturalisation application submission date. You cannot count time spent in the United Kingdom as a diplomat, member of a diplomat’s staff or household, or visiting member of the armed forces.
Applicants may not have resided outside the UK for more than 450 days during this 5-year period or 90 days in the 12 months preceding their application.
The potential issue for settled status holders applying to naturalise is that settled status in itself may not, in rare circumstances, be proof of past ‘lawful residence’ in the UK.
This is because the settlement scheme registration process required proof only of 5 years’ continuous residence, and not evidence of being here lawfully under the EEA Regulations and as defined by the British Nationality Act 1981. In other words, ‘physical residence’ required for settled status is not the same as living in accordance with the EEA Regulations 2016, which is required under the citizenship requirements.
In recognition that EU Settled Status is not proof of previous lawful residence, the Home Office confirmed that caseworkers do not have to enquire into lawful residence at all where the applicant has ILR or indefinite leave to enter (ILE), however it was acquired. This effectively means that periods of residence already considered in earlier applications will not be investigated and evidence of lawful residence will not be requested where the applicant holds ILR or ILE, except where new information comes to light that would have affected the original ILR/ILE decision had it been known at the time. This is expected to be a very rare occurrence.
Length of absences from the UK during the residential qualifying period will still be assessed.
A further implication of this updated guidance is that under the good character requirement, personal immigration transgressions for those already granted ILR or ILE will not lead to a citizenship application failing solely on that basis. Note that this overlooking provision is only in relation to personal immigration history, and any other issues such as criminality will still be considered.
English language skills
To meet the language requirements, candidates must possess either an approved English qualification at CEFR level B1, B2, C1, or C2 or a degree taught or researched in English. Citizens of specific nations will be recognised as English-majority speakers for naturalisation purposes.
Good character requirement
Applicants for British citizenship through naturalisation must demonstrate excellent moral character. Good character indicates that you have continued to respect the rights of the United Kingdom, observe the law, and fulfil your responsibilities as a resident of the United Kingdom during your time here. Among the factors that may count against you when determining your character include criminal convictions, making a fraudulent statement on an application, breaching the immigration laws.
Applicants must disclose all criminal convictions from the United Kingdom and abroad. Those who have spent at least 4 years in prison are typically denied citizenship. This also applies to those who have served between 12 months and 4 years in prison within the last 15 years, as well as those who have served less than 12 months within the last 10 years.
Ordinarily, minor offences such as fixed penalty notices are not deemed criminal unless you have failed to pay or received three or more.
How to apply for British Citizenship with Settled Status
To apply for British Citizenship with EU settled status, the following steps must be taken:
- Fill out the online application Form AN
- Pay the £1,330 application fee
- Schedule an appointment with UKVCAS to submit your biometrics
- Upload any supporting documents required for your application
- Attend your UKVCAS appointment
EU naturalisation application referees
You will have to provide two referees in support of your naturalisation application.
Home Office guidance stipulates that referees provided in support of an application for British citizenship must have known the applicant for at least three years; be British passport holders who are either professionals or over the age of 25 (at least one reference must be a professional); and have known the applicant for at least three years.
In addition, referees must not:
- be related to the applicant or the other referee;
- be the applicant’s representative;
- be employed by the Home Office; or
- have been convicted of an imprisonable offence within the last ten years for which the sentence has not been served in accordance with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
The referees have to sign a declaration confirming both that they are eligible to be a referee for British citizenship and that the photograph provided is a true likeness of the naturalisation applicant.
They also have to provide the following details:
- full name
- date of birth
- addresses for the last three years
- telephone number
- email address
- passport number, if a British passport holder
- details of how they know the applicant
A minimum of one referee must have professional standing, as included on the Home Office list of acceptable professional persons, such as accountants, bank or building society employees, barristers, dentists, VAT-registered company directors, members of parliament, nurses, optometrists, police officers, social workers and lawyers.
The second referee must be at least 25 years old and hold a British passport, unless they are a person of professional standing.
How long does it take for someone with Settled Status to become a British citizen?
After one year of being granted EU settled status, you can apply for British citizenship. After submitting a request for British citizenship, the Home Office will typically provide a decision within six months. By submitting a carefully prepared and comprehensive application, you can minimise the processing time.
If your application is successful
If your application for British citizenship is granted, you will be notified in writing. You will be invited to a citizenship ceremony which you should attend within three to six months. You will be required to take an oath to affirm that you will respect the rights, liberties, and laws of the United Kingdom. At the conclusion of the ceremony, you will receive your certificate of British citizenship.
Pre-Brexit EU naturalisation rules
EU naturalisation is the process by which EEA nationals with more than 6 years in the UK and who have held permanent residence status for at least 12 months can apply to become a British citizen, and be eligible for a British passport.
You could be eligible to apply as an EEA national if you satisfy the following criteria:
- You have been in the UK for a minimum qualifying period of six years.
- You have held UK permanent residence status or EU settled status for 12 months minimum.
- You must be 18 years old or over.
- You must not have a serious or recent criminal record.
- You have not broken any immigration laws or conditions while in the UK.
- You must satisfy the English language requirements and pass the ‘Life in the UK’ test.
UK naturalisation process
An application for EU naturalisation requires you to complete the relevant form and compile extensive documentation. In most cases you will also need to attend an appointment at UKVCAS.
UKVI will review and check your application documentation and visa status in the UK, as well as running checks for criminal or civil matters which may disbar you.
Once approved, you will receive an invitation to attend a Citizenship ceremony. These are usually local to where you live. At the ceremony you will receive your Certificate of Naturalisation. Thereafter you become eligible to apply for a British passport.
What you need to know about EU naturalisation
EU citizens can apply for naturalisation after six years in the UK, unless you are married to a British citizen. As the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen, provided you satisfy the general eligibility requirements, you can apply for British citizenship as soon as you are granted indefinite leave to remain, or permanent residence if you are an EEA national. This means you do not have to wait a further 12 months before becoming eligible to get British citizenship.
It is also important to check if your country of origin allows you to hold both British citizenship and citizenship of that country, as some do not permit this. The UK for example does allow you to have more than one nationality.
What will I need to show to apply for EU naturalisation?
There are a number of criteria which must be satisfied in full before your application will be approved. These include:
- Time spent in the UK – 6 years minimum for EEA nationals, unless married to a British citizen
- Have you passed Life in the UK test
- Can you satisfy English language requirement
- The total number of absences from the UK over the qualifying period
- Any criminal or civil matters which may disbar you
The application form is fairly straight forward but the supporting documentation required is typically extensive.
Evidence will be required concerning information about yourself, your time spent in the UK and absences from the UK. The documents that you submit in support of your application must be error-free, or the application will be delayed or worse refused. In some cases action may be taken if UKVI alleges you have made a false statement or submitted a fake document.
The British citizenship application will be reviewed and checked by UKVI to cover your visa status, tax status, criminal and civil matters.
Once approved, you will receive an invitation to attend at a Citizenship ceremony which is usually local to where you live and at the ceremony you will receive your Certificate of Naturalisation.
Thereafter you are free to apply for a British passport which is usually processed within approximately six weeks.
How does naturalisation affect my rights after Brexit?
Once you naturalise as a British citizen, you will hold the same rights as and you will no longer be considered as an EU national in the UK or affected by any changes in legislation or immigration rights affecting EU nationals. As such, EU citizens with more than 6 years in the UK are looking to naturalisation to secure their future and the of their loved ones in the UK.
Can children apply to naturalise?
Yes, provided each child satisfies the specific requirements as set out under British nationality law, they may submit an application for British citizenship using Form MN1. A parent can apply to naturalise at the same time as their child.
One important consideration when making the applications is the possibility that the child may be approved, but the parent’s / parents’ own application may be refused. Section 7 of Form MN1 invites the parent to confirm that, in this event, the child should still be registered as a British citizen. If the relevant box is not ticked, the child’s application will be treated as having been withdrawn at the point when the parent’s application is refused. The child’s application fee will not be refunded.
What is the cost of naturalisation?
Home Office fees are subject to change and you should check before sending in your application. Check the latest fees here. Also note that if you make a mistake and fail to subject a relevant document, your application will be automatically refused and you will lose your application fee(s).
How long does it take to get British citizenship?
On average, applications are typically processed in 6 months. The complexity of your application will determine how long it will take to be processed, as well as the volume of other applications UKVI have received.
Under the current rules, you do not need to send your original passport with the application, provided a certified copy (every page) of your passport is sent as part of the document bundle. This allows you to continue to travel while your application is being processed.
What if my application is refused?
British citizenship applications are refused for many reasons. Grounds for refusal can include incorrect documentation, failure to complete the form correctly and failing to respond to UKVI’s enquiries in a timely manner.
If your naturalisation application is refused, you may resubmit an application.
It is important to understand however why the application failed in the first instance and how this can be addressed or rectified. For example, was there an error in completing the form, was the incorrect fee paid or was there failure on discretionary grounds? We can provide guidance on how to approach a reapplication.
I have criminal convictions will this affect my application?
Yes, previous offences and convictions are likely to affect your application, although this does depend upon the type of conviction or offence.
For more information, it is best to speak to DavidsonMorris. Our solicitors will be able to advise as to when a conviction will become spent and when it is possible to apply to naturalise.
What is the difference between naturalisation, permanent residence and settled status?
Permanent residence grants an applicant the right to live, work and study in the UK without any immigration restrictions, while still holding a foreign citizenship and passport. To be eligible, applicants need to evidence 5 years of qualifying activity in the UK without having been outside of the UK for more than 90 days within any 12 month period.
Permanent residence holders can over time become entitled to apply for naturalisation if they meet the further criteria for citizenship.
At DavidsonMorris we have the experience to advise you on the most appropriate type of application for your individual circumstances and have the insight to make the EU naturalisation application process as smooth as possible.
As a team of immigration lawyers and former Home Office employees, we have an established reputation for effective and efficient management and processing of British citizenship and naturalisation applications.
How can EU citizens get UK citizenship?
You must have permanent resident status or have obtained indefinite leave to remain under the EU settlement programme. If you qualify for either of these, you can apply for British citizenship after living in the United Kingdom for an additional 12 months with this status.
Can I have EU and British citizenship?
You would need to check the rules o fyour country of citizenship to veerify that it allows dual citizenship with the UK.
Can I apply for British citizenship with EU settled status?
You can apply for British citizenship after 12 months with EU settled status and provided you meet the UK naturalisation requirements.
How long does the naturalisation process take in UK?
It can take up to 6 months for a UK naturalisation application to be processed.
Last updated: 4 January 2023