When applying to naturalise or register as a British citizen, applicants aged ten or over must satisfy a good character requirement. This year, we have seen changes to the Home Office guidance on the good character requirement in naturalisation applications. Here, we consider the key updates.
The British Nationality Act 1981 (BNA 1981) sets out the requirement that applicants aged ten or over must show that they are of good character to successfully naturalise or register as a British citizen. We have previously discussed the good character requirement in relation to issues concerning criminality and past immigration breaches.
Good character and lawful residence
Immigration breaches relating to lawful residence can include overstaying, illegal entry to the UK and absconding.
Prior to 28 June 2022, such immigration breaches committed in the five-year period before a citizenship application would have been a reason for refusal. This would be on the basis that the applicant had not met the lawful residence requirement. Immigration breaches in the last ten years would be grounds for refusal on the basis that the applicant had not met the good character requirement.
Schedule 1 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 (NABA 2022) amended this rule for applications made after 28 June 2022. From this date, in applications for registration and citizenship where the applicant has Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), they are automatically treated as meeting the lawful residence requirement during the qualifying period without further enquiry.
As a result, the guidance on good character has also been updated. In circumstances where the applicant has immigration breaches relating to illegal entry, overstaying and absconding in the last ten years, these may be disregarded when assessing good character. This is providing all of the following factors apply:
- they are applying for naturalisation or registration as a British citizen under Sections 4(2), 6(10 or 6(2) of the BNA 1981 after 28 June 2022;
- they hold ILR or Indefinite Leave to Enter (ILE); and
- there are no concerns regarding the person’s character since the grant of settlement.
As such, this relaxation of the rules will not apply to all applicants and caution should still be exercised in relation to evidencing the good character requirement. Other immigration breaches not relating to lawful residence will also still be considered.
The guidance provides examples of situations where immigration breaches relating to lawful residence should still be considered. They include:
- where historic information has come to light that, if known, may have impacted the grant of settlement;
- where circumstances arise that indicate the applicant’s settlement should be revoked; or
- in applications for naturalisation as a British overseas territory citizen.
A section has also been introduced to the guidance regarding travel bans.
Under Section 8B of the Immigration Act 1971, a person who is subject to a travel ban must be refused entry clearance to the UK and any permission held must be cancelled. The guidance now states that a person who is the subject of a travel ban will not normally be considered to be of good character.
This is a minor change in reality, as such individuals would not normally be in a position to apply for naturalisation or registration.
The good character guidance has also been updated to clarify that applicants with pending prosecutions will usually have their application placed on hold until the outcome of the investigation or proceedings. If there are other good character concerns, then the application may still be refused despite the pending prosecution.
Good character and criminal conduct
Updates were also made to the Home Office Guide AN Naturalisation Booklet in October 2022. This guide relates to naturalisation applications made under Sections 6(1) and 6(2) of the BNA 1981.
The changes relating to criminal conduct and good character are as follows:
- Applicants must inform the Home Office if they have any children who have been convicted of an offence or who have received a court order. Whilst this has now been added to the Guide AN guidance, the good character guidance already set out that: “an application will not normally be refused based on the actions of the person’s child… This will be limited to cases where the parents encouraged or were complicit in the criminal activity or were particularly negligent in their dealings with the authorities”.
- Where the applicant has any endorsements on their driving licence, they must access the DVLA website to download and print a summary of their record and send it with the application, or provide the paper counterpart.
- Applicants must declare if they are the subject of an international travel ban.
This update also included a paragraph on financial soundness, which states the applicant must inform the Home Office in their application of any of the following:
- they have been declared bankrupt;
- they failed to pay their council tax;
- engaged in fraud in relation to public funds; or
- they have an unpaid NHS debt of £500 or more.
Therefore, whilst we have seen a slight relaxation of the rules on good character relating to lawful residence, we have also seen additional guidance providing more onerous duties to disclose circumstances that may have an impact on the good character assessment.
How our immigration solicitors can help
Our immigration team specialise in applications to register and naturalise as a British citizen. We often provide advice to individuals who have concerns regarding good character, and we pride ourselves on achieving excellent outcomes for our clients.
If you do require advice or wish to discuss your circumstances, please contact us or complete the enquiry form below.