UK Right of Abode (ROA) for Commonwealth Citizens

uk right of abode

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The Right of Abode allows certain Commonwealth citizens to both live or work in the UK free from any immigration restrictions.

The following guide looks at what it means to have right of abode in the UK, as well as who is eligible and who qualifies as a commonwealth citizen to be entitled to this right. We also look at how to prove right of abode and whether this right can be lost.

 

What is UK right of abode?

With he right of abode, you will not need a visa to come to the UK and there is no limit on the length of time that you can spend in this country.

All British citizens automatically have right of abode in the UK. Some Commonwealth citizens will also have this right, where they will not need to obtain the permission of an immigration officer to be able to enter the UK, and can live and work without restriction.

 

Who is eligible for right of abode?

Having right of abode is a statutory right set out under the Immigration Act 1971 (as amended). Under the provisions of the 1971 Act, a person either has or does not have this right, depending on whether they meet the conditions prescribed by section 2(1).

Section 2(1) provides that a person will have right of abode in the UK if they are a British citizen. For example, if you were born in the UK or a British colony before 1 January 1983, or you were born in the UK from 1 July 2021 onwards and at least one of your parents was either British or an Irish citizen living in the UK. A person will also have right of abode if they are a Commonwealth citizen who prior to the commencement of the British Nationality Act 1981 was a Commonwealth citizen having right of abode who has not since ceased to be a Commonwealth citizen.

Importantly, the right of abode cannot be conferred on any person, for example, by issuing them with a British passport or certificate of entitlement. In the absence of right of abode, you may still be able to live, work and settle in the UK, but only with permission to do so.

 

Who qualifies as a commonwealth citizen for this right?

You may have right of abode in the UK either because of your parents or because you are or were previously married to someone with right of abode.

In the context of your parents, you will have right of abode if all the following apply to you:

one of your parents was born in the UK and was also a citizen of the United Kingdom and colonies when you were born or adopted
you were a Commonwealth citizen on 31 December 1982
you did not cease to be a Commonwealth citizen at any point after 31 December 1982, where the right of abode provisions changed on 1 January 1983 after the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force.

When it comes to marriage, you can only get right to abode if you are a female Commonwealth citizen. In this context, you must have:

  • been married to someone with right of abode before 1 January 1983, and
  • not stopped being a Commonwealth citizen at any point after 31 December 1982.

You will not usually have right of abode if the person you were married to has another living wife or widow in the UK, or has been in the UK at any time since that marriage — unless they entered the UK illegally, came as a visitor or have temporary permission to stay — and has a certificate of entitlement to right of abode or permission to enter the UK because of the marriage. However, you may still have the right of abode if you entered the UK before 1 August 1988 while married, even if your husband has other wives in the UK, and you have been in the UK since your marriage and at that time you were your husband’s only wife to have legally entered or been given permission to do so.

 

How do you prove your right of abode?

Section 1(1) of the Immigration Act exempts from immigration control anyone who has right of abode in the UK, provided they can prove this right. You can prove you have right of abode if you hold a UK passport describing you as either a British citizen or as a British subject with right of abode, otherwise you must apply for a certificate of entitlement.

Importantly, anyone seeking to enter the UK and claiming to have right of abode, but who is unable to produce a passport or travel document proving their entitlement to this right, will be treated as subject to immigration control. In addition to allowing you to travel freely in and out of the UK, you will also need to a certificate of entitlement for work purposes.

 

What is a certificate of entitlement?

You can apply for a certificate of entitlement from the UK Home Office to show you have right of abode in the UK, providing you with documentary proof that you have the right to live and work in the UK. As this will be affixed to your passport or travel document, you will need to apply for a new certificate when your passport or travel document expires.

However, you cannot apply for a certificate of entitlement if you already hold a British passport describing you as a British citizen, or as a British subject with right of abode, or if you have a valid certificate of entitlement in another foreign passport.

For further information, you should refer to the official Home Office online guidance on applying for a certificate of entitlement to the right of abode (dated June 2023) at GOV.UK.

 

How do you apply for a certificate of entitlement?

The way in which you apply for a certificate of entitlement will depend on whether you are applying from inside or outside the UK.

 

Applying for a Certificate of Entitlement from the UK

To apply from the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man, you will need to submit an online application and provide a number of documents in support, although you will usually be able to keep your documents while your application is being processed.

As an alternative to applying for a certificate of entitlement online, you can also apply by post, although you will need to download Form ROA. You must send your completed form, payment slip and fee, together with your supporting documentation to: Department 1, UK Visas and Immigration, The Capital Building, New Hall Place, Liverpool, L3 9PP.

Once your application for a certificate of entitlement has been submitted, you will usually get a decision within 8 weeks of applying online and sending in your documents by post. If your application is approved, your certificate will be sent to you with your decision letter.

 

Applying for a Certificate of Entitlement from overseas

If you are applying for a certificate of entitlement from outside the UK or from a British overseas territory, you must apply online using the appropriate link at GOV.UK. As part of your application, you will need to attend an overseas visa application centre to enrol your biometric information. This will include a scan of your fingerprints and a facial photograph.

You will usually get a decision on your application within 3 weeks of attending your scheduled appointment at a visa application centre. If your application is successful, your certificate of entitlement will again be sent to you with your decision letter.

Importantly, if you are in North Korea, you cannot apply online, where you must download the application form and guidance, following the instructions on where to take your form.

 

Supporting documents

All applications for a certificate of entitlement must be accompanied by:

  • your passport or travel document
  • two photographs taken no more than 6 months prior to the date of the application, and
  • relevant supporting documentation depending on the basis upon which the certificate is sought, as set out in the schedule of documents to the Immigration (Certificate of Entitlement to Right of Abode in the United Kingdom) Regulations 2006.

The 2006 Regulations set out the criteria for issuing a certificate of entitlement and contain a useful schedule prescribing the documentation needed in support of these applications based on the way in which you gained the right of abode. For example, if you are a female Commonwealth citizen married before 1st January 1983 to a man with right of abode in the UK, you will need to provide your marriage certificate, together with evidence of your husband’s right of abode, such as their passport, or UK birth or naturalisation certificate.

Guidance on the documentation to provide in support of your application for a certificate of entitlement can also be found in the Home Office online guidance at GOV.UK.

 

How much does a certificate of entitlement cost?

To apply for a certificate of entitlement from the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man, this will cost £372. To apply for a certificate outside the UK, the cost will be £388.

Importantly, before applying for a certificate of entitlement to right of abode, you should first check your eligibility to apply under the Windrush Scheme, which is free of charge. If you are part of what is known as the Windrush generation, there is a different way to prove your right to live in the UK, where more information on this can be found at GOV.UK.

 

What happens if your certificate of entitlement is refused?

If your application for a certificate of entitlement is refused, there is no legal right to appeal or review a right of abode decision. However, if you made your application from in the UK, you can apply to have this application reconsidered if you think that UKVI did not make the decision in line with the applicable law or their relevant policy rules. To request to reconsider a decision to refuse a certificate of entitlement you must use Form RROA.

Importantly, if your application is refused, either because you do not qualify for right of abode or you did not send in sufficient evidence, your application fee will not be refunded. If your application was refused because you did not provide evidence of your claim to the right of abode but you now have the relevant documents, your application will not be reconsidered, although you can make a fresh application and pay an additional fee.

 

Can you lose your UK right of abode?

Importantly, right of abode in the UK will not expire. However, your certificate of entitlement will cease to be valid on expiry of the passport or travel document to which it is affixed, where you will need to make make a fresh application before travelling if you wish to have a certificate of entitlement placed in your new passport or travel document.

Additionally, in certain circumstances, your right of abode can be revoked if:

  • it is established that you do not have a right of abode in the UK
  • you hold a UK passport that describes you as either a British citizen or British subject with right of abode in the UK
  • you have another passport with a valid certificate of entitlement
  • you are polygamously married to a man with the right of abode and another wife has already been issued with a certificate of entitlement
  • an order has been made to deprive you of your right of abode.

Under section 2A of the Immigration Act, provision is made in relation to deprivation of right of abode. Under these provisions, if you have acquired this right on the basis of Commonwealth but not British citizenship, this right can be taken away, provided it would be conducive to the public good for you to be excluded or removed from the UK. In practice, however, a decision to deprive you of right of abode would only be appropriate if, for example, you have been involved in serious organised crime or acts of terrorism.

 

UK Right of Abode FAQs

Is right of abode same as settled status?

The UK right of abode is not the same as settled status, although both permit someone to live in the UK on a permanent basis. However, you can lose settled status if you spend 5 consecutive years outside the UK.

Does a British protected person have right of abode?

A British protected person can hold a British passport and get consular assistance from UK diplomatic posts, but they are still subject to UK immigration controls and do not automatically have the right to live or work in the UK.

How much is a right of abode?

To apply for a certificate of entitlement to prove your right of abode, and therefore the right to live and work in the UK without immigration restriction, will cost £372 from inside the UK and £388 from outside the UK.

Do Irish citizens have right of abode in the UK?

Irish citizens have special status in the UK and do not require a visa or have any limits on how long they can stay in the country, where they can live and work in the UK free from immigration restrictions.

Last updated: 16 January 2024

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