When applying to naturalise or register as a British citizen, adults and children aged ten or over must meet what is known as the ‘good character’ requirement.
One of the requirements is that applicants must show they are of ‘good character’. The Act does not provide a definition of ‘good character’. However, Home Office guidance provides an overview of the factors that will be considered.
These factors are:
- international crimes, terrorism and other non-conducive activity;
- financial soundness;
- deception and dishonestly;
- immigration related matters; and
The above list is non-exhaustive. An application for British citizenship may also be refused if an applicant does not clearly fall into one of these categories but there are other doubts regarding their character.
Criminality is one of the most frequent grounds cited by the Home Office when it refuses an individual’s application to become a British citizen.
Applicants must declare all previous and pending criminal convictions in their applications, including criminal convictions that may be considered ‘spent’ for other purposes. The Home Office guidance confirms that there are consequences for non-disclosure:
“Concealment of information or lack of frankness will raise doubt about, and therefore reflect poorly on, the applicant’s character. An application will normally be refused only where the person has attempted to lie or conceal the truth about an aspect of their application, whether on the application form or in the course of enquiries, including where they have knowingly provided false personal details, for example date of birth, name or nationality.”
The impact of a criminal conviction will depend on the sentence the applicant was given, and the amount of time that has passed since the conviction. A criminal conviction will lead to a refusal of an application to become a British citizen where it happened within a certain period leading up to submitting the application.
Sentences imposed overseas will usually be treated in the same way as those imposed in the UK, although convictions for behaviour that is legitimate in the UK will normally be disregarded. For example, homosexuality is unlawful in many countries but a conviction on this basis would not affect an application.
Sentences will be considered in the following way, depending on the date the application was made:
Applications made after 31 July 2023:
An application to naturalise as a British citizen will normally be refused if the person:
- has received a custodial sentence of at least 12 months in the UK or overseas;
- has consecutive sentences totalling at least 12 months in the UK or overseas;
- is a persistent offender who shows a particular disregard for the law;
- has committed an offence which has caused serious harm;
- has committed a sexual offence or their details are recorded by the police on a register.
An application must be refused if they have:
- a custodial sentence of less than 12 months;
- a non-custodial sentence or out-of-court disposal recorded on their criminal record;
- and, in any of the cases above, the Home Office is not satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the applicant is of good character.
Factors which will fall to be considered in any assessment of good character on the balance of probabilities include the length of time since offences, the number of offences and their seriousness, amongst other considerations.
Applications made before 31 July 2023:
An application to naturalise as a British citizen will normally be refused if the person has:
- a custodial sentence of at least 4 years;
- a custodial sentence of at least 12 months but less than 4 years unless a period of 15 years has passed since the end of the sentence;
- a custodial sentence of less than 12 months unless a period of 10 years has passed since the end of the sentence;
- a non-custodial sentence or out-of-court disposal (i.e. cautions, warnings, community sentences, hospital orders and fines) that is recorded on their criminal record which occurred in the 3 years prior to the date of application.
In the case of non-custodial sentences and out-of-court disposals, if a person was convicted within three years of submitting the application, but more than three years have passed on the date the application is decided, the application must not be refused solely on this basis. However, where there are other issues of concern, previous offences may be considered relevant when considering good character as a whole.
The Home Office guidance, referred to above, states that:
“A fixed penalty notice will not normally result in refusal unless the person has failed to pay or has unsuccessfully challenged the notice and there were subsequent criminal proceedings resulting in a conviction. In such instances, they should be treated in line with the sentence imposed by the court.”
However, applicants should be aware that if they have a number of fixed penalty notices across a short period of time, this could be taken to demonstrate that they have a disregard for the law and are not of good character.
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*This article was originally published in January 2020 and has been updated. It is accurate as of the new date of publication shown.