What are the current rules?
The British Nationality Act 1981 governs when a person can apply for British citizenship. If a person is married to a British national, they can apply as soon as they are free of immigration time restrictions and they’ve been resident in the UK for at least three years. That means that they can usually apply as soon as they are granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK or settled status. That comes from section 6(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981.
Section 6(1) of the British Nationality Act 1981 governs adult naturalisation and requires that an adult should ‘not at any time in the period of 12 months so, ending [been] subject under the immigration laws to any restriction on the period for which they might remain in the United Kingdom’.
What about EU Nationals?
European Economic Area (EEA) nationals who come within 6(1) have historically relied on the acquisition of permanent residence under the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016 (The Regulations) or its predecessors. Under previous regulations, it was only necessary to prove to the naturalisation department that you had ‘acquired’ permanent residence through exercising treaty rights for five years or more and that you had retained that permanent residence for one year following. That changed in November 2015 requiring that a person obtains a Permanent Residence Card, or a document certifying permanent residence, prior to making a naturalisation application. A person was still able to demonstrate five years permanent residence prior to the final year and obtain a letter from the decision-maker on the EEA application which showed permanent residence has been acquired a year or more ago. This allowed a person to make a naturalisation application as soon as their permanent residence card was received.
A person applying under the EU settlement scheme contained at Appendix EU of the Immigration Rules will not be granted document certifying permanent residence or a permanent residence card but will be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK. In that case, regardless of the time spent in the UK, an applicant will need to wait 12 months from the grant of indefinite leave to remain before applying for British citizenship.
What if you have resided in the UK for 5 years?
If you been resident in the UK for over five years and exercising treaty rights as a European national or a family member of European national, then you may be in a better position applying for a document certifying your permanent residence in the UK, or a permanent residence card, rather than applying for settled status under the new scheme. This is likely only to be relevant if you intend on applying to naturalise in the UK and would like to do so as soon as possible. If you do intend to do apply for naturalisation as a British national, please consider this position carefully. The permanent residence card application is lengthier and more arduous for the applicant. It is also necessary to show that you have been exercising treaty rights in the UK either as a worker, student, self-employed person, self-sufficient person and so on, or a family member of a person exercising treaty rights. If you have not been exercising treaty rights, then the permanent residence card application may not be suitable for you.
In addition to this, you should consider whether you are a national of another country and whether that country allows dual citizenship prior to making a British citizenship application. In some instances, a British citizen application could nullify your other citizenship.
PLEASE REMEMBER TO APPLY FOR THE EU SETTLEMENT SCHEME
With the end of free movement to the EU, EU applicants only have till 30 June 2021 to submit their application for the EU Settlement Scheme.