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UK Right of Abode – Frequently Asked Questions

UK Right of Abode allows you to live and work in the UK without any immigration restrictions, without any requirement for a visa or permission to come to the UK and without any limit on the time you can spend in the country.

Below we look what it means to have UK right of abode, as well as other frequently asked questions including who is eligible, how you go about proving this right and whether or not you can be deprived of it.

What is UK right of abode?

The law relating to the right of abode in the UK is contained in the Immigration Act 1971, the British Nationality Act 1981, and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. In particular, section 1(1) of the 1971 Act provides that:

“all those with the right of abode in the United Kingdom shall be free to live in, and to come and go into and from, the United Kingdom without let or hindrance except such as may be required under and in accordance with this Act to enable their right to be established or as may be otherwise lawfully imposed on any person”.

Accordingly, section 1(1) confers complete exemption from UK immigration control on persons with the right of abode, albeit subject to proof of that right. This effectively means you are allowed to live or work in the UK without a visa, with no limit on the length of time you can stay.

 In the absence of a right of abode, you may still live, work and settle in the United Kingdom, albeit you will need permission to do so. Please note, there will be no change to the rights and status of EU citizens currently living in the UK until 30 June 2021, or 31 December 2020 if the UK leaves the EU without a deal. You and your family can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK.

Are you eligible for UK right of abode?

The right of abode is a statutory right that a person either has or does not have, depending on whether the conditions in section 2 of the Immigration Act 1971 are satisfied. As such, where a person does not already have this right by virtue of these statutory provisions, it is a right that cannot be conferred.

Section 2, as amended by the British Nationality Act 1981, defines the categories of people who are entitled to the right of abode in the UK as follows:

  • A British citizen, or
  • A Commonwealth citizen who immediately before the commencement of the 1981 Act was a Commonwealth citizen having the right of abode in the United Kingdom, and has not ceased to be a Commonwealth citizen in the meanwhile.

As such, all British citizens automatically have a right of abode in the UK, together with certain Commonwealth citizens who were born before 1983. The right of abode provisions changed on 1 January 1983 when the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force.

Who is classed as a British citizen?

You will have become a British citizen on 1 January 1983, and will therefore have the right of abode in the UK if, immediately before that date you were:

  • A citizen of the UK and Colonies (CUKC) who was born, adopted, naturalised or registered in the UK
  • You were a CUKC and your parent at the time of your birth was a CUKC by being born, adopted, naturalised or registered in the UK, or a CUKC whose parent qualified for the right of abode because their parent, ie; your grandparent, was born, adopted, naturalised or registered in the UK
  • A CUKC who, at any time before 1 January 1983, had been ordinarily resident in the UK for a continuous period of 5 years or more and, during that period, you were not in breach of the immigration laws and, at the end of that period, you did not have any time limit attached to your stay
  • A CUKC who was or had been the wife of a man with the right of abode in the UK at any time before 31 December 1982.

If you were a CUKC by birth in a former colony, you may have lost that status when that country became independent. In such cases you would only have a right of abode if you qualified under one of the provisions for Commonwealth citizens born before 1 January 1983.

Please note, the only way to acquire the right of abode for the first time since 1 January 1983 has been by becoming a British citizen. This may be, for example, where you were born in the UK to a British citizen, or you have become, or are eligible to become, a British citizen through registration or naturalisation.

Who is a qualifying Commonwealth citizen?

If you are not a British citizen, you could still have the right of abode if, on 31 December 1982 you were:

  • A Commonwealth citizen with a parent or adoptive parent who, at the time of your birth or legal adoption, was a CUKC and obtained their citizenship by being born in the UK, or
  • A female Commonwealth citizen, and before 1 January 1983 had been married to a man with the right of abode.

Please note, if you were born before 1 January 1983 and your mother was born in the UK, you may qualify for registration as a British citizen.

How do you prove you have a right of abode?

Any person claiming right of abode in the UK must prove it by presenting any one of the following:

  • A UK passport describing the person as a British citizen
  • A UK passport describing the person as a British subject with the right of abode in the UK.

However, in the absence of a UK passport describing you as such, you will need to apply for a “certificate of entitlement” for work and immigration purposes. This will be affixed to your passport or travel document.

Anyone seeking to enter the UK and claiming to have the right of abode, but who is unable to produce a passport or travel document proving their entitlement, will be treated as subject to immigration control.

Please note, you will need to apply for a new certificate of entitlement when your passport expires. A certificate is only valid for as long as your passport is valid.

How do you apply for a certificate of entitlement?

An application for a certificate of entitlement must be made on form ROA. All applications must be accompanied by the applicant’s own valid passport or travel document, 2 photographs of the applicant taken no more than 6 months prior to the date of the application, and relevant supporting documentation.

From within the UK an application can either be made online or by post. This will cost £372. If you apply from outside the UK, or from a British overseas territory, you must apply online at a cost of £388.

You will be ineligible for a certificate of entitlement if you do not have the right of abode in the UK, or your right has been restricted or deprived. Further, a certificate of entitlement cannot be issued in the following circumstances:

  • You hold a current UK passport describing you as a British citizen
  • You hold a current UK passport describing you as a British subject with the right of abode in the UK
  • You hold a certificate of entitlement in another foreign passport.

Can your right of abode be restricted or revoked?

You may be restricted from exercising your right of abode where you are polygamously married to a man with the right of abode, and another wife has already been issued with a certificate of entitlement.

You may also be deprived of your right of abode if you have acquired this right on the basis of Commonwealth but not British citizenship, and it would be conducive to the public good for you to be excluded or removed from the United Kingdom. Such action may be appropriate where the applicant has:

  • Encouraged or assisted others to commit acts of terrorism
  • Committed war crimes, public order offences or other serious crime
  • Carried out acts seriously prejudicial to vital national interests, including espionage and acts of terrorism directed at the UK or an allied power.

Further, certificates of entitlement issued after 21 December 2006 may be revoked by any Home Office official (including Her Majesty’s Passport Office officials), an immigration officer, consular officer or entry clearance officer if it is discovered that the holder is no longer eligible to have it.

Do you have a question about the UK right of abode? DavidsonMorris can help!

Legal advice can help ensure your case is effectively represented to the authorities and to avoid any delays with your application.

DavidsonMorris are experienced in all aspects of UK immigration. If you have any queries or require guidance, contact our immigration specialists.

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