Fri | Oct 30, 2020

Immigration Corner | Who is a British subject?

Published:Tuesday | April 7, 2020 | 12:16 AM
John Bassie
John Bassie

Dear Mr Bassie,

I am a little confused about who is a British subject. I hear the term and would like you to provide a little more clarity to it.

– S.B.

Dear S.B.,

Please be aware that until 1949, nearly everyone with a close connection to the United Kingdom (UK) was called a ‘British subject’.

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 since 1983, very few people have qualified as British subjects.


Persons became a British subject on January 1, 1983 if, until then, they were 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 she was a woman who registered as a British subject on the basis of marriage to a man in one of these categories.


A person was 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 he/she did not make a claim to remain a British subject, that person can apply to the home secretary to become a British subject if either:

• He/she has been in Crown service for the UK government.

• He/she is associated with the UK or a British Overseas Territory by descent, residence or another way.

Those persons can do this by applying for a British subject passport.


British subjects cannot normally pass on that status to their children if the children were born after January 1, 1983.

However, children may be British subjects if they were born on or after January 1, 1983, in the UK or a British Overseas Territory and all the following apply when they are born:

• One of their parents is a British subject.

• Neither parent is a British citizen, British Overseas Territories citizen or British overseas citizen.

• They would be stateless without British subject status.


As a British subject, a person can hold a British passport and receive 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, those persons are not considered a United Kingdom national by the European Union.


Stateless people: Persons who are stateless may sometimes be able to register as a British subject if they are stateless, that is, not recognised by any country as having a nationality. It is important that applicants be aware that they must meet certain conditions before applying using Form S2.

Children: Please note that a child under 18 years of age can be registered as a British subject in special circumstances.

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: