Immigration Corner | Who is a British subject?
Dear Mr Bassie,
I have often heard the term ‘British subjects’. I am hoping that you can explain what this means with respect to a person’s status.
It should be noted that until 1949, nearly everyone who had a close connection to the United Kingdom was called a ‘British subject’. Further, all citizens of Commonwealth countries were collectively referred to as ‘British subjects’ until January 1983. However, this was not an official status for most of them and on a point of note, since 1983, very few people have qualified as British subjects.
Who is a British subject?
A person became a British subject on January 1, 1983 if, until then, he/she was either:
• A British subject without citizenship, which means he/she was a British subject on December 31, 1948 who did not become a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, a Commonwealth country, Pakistan or Ireland
• A person who had been a citizen of Ireland on December 31, 1948 and had made a claim to remain a British subject
A person also became a British subject on January 1, 1983 if he/she was a woman who registered as a British subject based on marriage to a man in one of these categories.
A person is a British subject if he/she was a citizen of Ireland on December 31, 1948 and made a claim to remain a British subject.
If a person did not make a claim to remain a British subject, he/she can apply to the Home Secretary to become a British subject if either:
• He/she has been in Crown service for the United Kingdom Government
• He/she is associated with the United Kingdom or a British overseas territory by descent, residence or another way. This can be done by applying for a British subject passport.
Children of British subjects
British subjects cannot normally pass on that status to their children if the children were born after January 1, 1983.
However, a child may be a British subject if he/she was born on or after January 1, 1983 in the United Kingdom or a British overseas territory and all the following apply upon birth of the child:
• One of the parents is a British subject
• Neither parent is a British citizen, British Overseas Territories citizen or British overseas citizen
• The child would be stateless without British subject status
Rights as a British subject
As British subjects, persons can hold a British passport, get consular assistance and protection from United Kingdom diplomatic posts. However, persons are usually subject to immigration controls and do not have the automatic right to live or work in the United Kingdom. Please note that there are only rare exceptions to this. Also, these persons are not considered to be United Kingdom nationals by the European Union.
Becoming a British subject
Persons may sometimes be able to register as British subjects if they are stateless,that is, not recognised by any country as having a nationality or if they were born outside the United Kingdom or British Overseas Territories on or after January 1, 1983. It should be noted that persons must meet certain conditions to be eligible.
A child under 18 years old can be registered as a British subject in special circumstances. It is advisable that persons read the guidance notes using Form MN4 before applying.
Please be aware that since January 1, 1983 anyone gaining citizenship of any other country cannot be a British subject, unless they are also a citizen of Ireland. Just for completeness, British subjects may be able to register as British citizens in very limited circumstances, if they meet certain conditions.
I hope this helps.
John S. Bassie is a barrister/attorney-at-law who practises law in Jamaica. He is a justice of the peace, a Supreme Court-appointed mediator, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, a chartered arbitrator and a member of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (UK). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org