In February 2018, a landmark ruling by the UK Supreme Court opened up a route to UK citizenship for thousands of South Africans. The ruling, which relates to historic gender discrimination in UK citizenship law, allows people to claim UK citizenship based on a mother’s father born in the UK. But things may change soon.
In the past, claiming UK citizenship by double descent was only possible if the birth had been in a foreign country and was registered at the time. Before 1983 it was generally not possible to register a birth unless the father was a UK citizen, regardless of the citizenship of the mother.
The recent ruling upheld and extended an earlier ruling by the Scottish High Court. According to the Supreme Court ruling, many South Africans may now claim citizenship based on a grandparent born in the UK via descent from a mother, whether or not there was an attempt to register the birth at the time.
This ruling is especially relevant to South Africans born between 31 May 1962 – i.e. from when South Africa left the Commonwealth – and 31 December 1982. As South Africa was not in the Commonwealth at this time, it was considered a ‘foreign country’ for UK legal purposes.
An eligible person born in South Africa or Namibia would have:
- been born between 31 May 1962 and 31 December 1982
- a mother was a UK citizen at the time (e.g. her father was born the UK or its territory)
- a father who was not a UK citizen
- a grandparent born in the UK
This judgement extends the right to British citizenship to thousands or even tens of thousands of people worldwide. The UK government may attempt to change the law and close this route soon, and so anyone seeking to exploit this opportunity should act quickly and seek professional advice. Passportia has submitted several applications already.
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