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British Citizenship Applications: Good Character Immigration Rule Changes

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On 30 July 2023, the Home Secretary announced that the government was toughening up the immigration rules and the good character requirement for British citizenship applications.

In this blog, our immigration solicitors look at the good character requirement for British citizenship applications.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors and British Citizenship Lawyers 

For immigration and British citizenship law advice call London-based OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

The government announcement on good character and British citizenship applications

The government has said that the good character requirement in British citizenship applications is being brought into line with the immigration rules on visa applications where an applicant has a criminal record.

In essence, that may make it harder for you to obtain British citizenship if you have a criminal record, even if the offence was committed in a ‘past life’.

The toughened rules came into force on 31 July 2023 and they apply to any applicant for British citizenship who has in the past received a prison sentence of 12 months or longer.

The changes introduced by the government remove the previous practice that a British citizenship applicant could be granted British citizenship after a specified number of years had passed since the completion of their sentence.

When announcing the change Home Secretary Suella Braverman said:

‘British citizenship is a privilege. Those who commit crimes shouldn’t be able to enjoy the breadth of rights citizenship brings, including holding a British passport, voting and accessing free medical care from the NHS.

I am cracking down on abuse of the UK’s immigration and nationality system, by introducing a tougher threshold so that serious criminals cannot gain British citizenship. This is the fair and right thing to do for our country’.

That sounds like tough talk but the Home Secretary did announce that there will be some exceptions to the new rules and that applicants will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. An example was given of someone getting British citizenship if they had mitigating circumstances supporting an exceptional grant of citizenship, such as an applicant who committed a minor offence years ago but is now of good character.

Changes to the Home Office guidance on assessing good character

In light of the government announcement, the Home Office has updated its guidance on assessing good character.

British citizenship lawyers warn that good character isn’t just about whether an applicant for British citizenship has a criminal record. It is far more nebulous and nuanced than that. Many people worry unnecessarily about passing the good character test when they first start thinking about making a British citizenship application. Others are oblivious to how one past mistake could affect their chances of gaining British citizenship.

If you are concerned that you may not pass the good character test or you think that the Home Office will need to be persuaded to exercise discretion on the good character test then it’s best to speak to a British citizenship solicitor before going ahead with your application. That way you can save time and money if you don’t meet the eligibility criteria. If you potentially meet the eligibility criteria an immigration solicitor can present the best case for the Home Office to exercise discretion and grant you citizenship.

The definition of good character in British citizenship applications

Applications for British citizenship are made under the British Nationality Act 1981. The Act does not define what good character amounts to.

Immigration solicitors rely on the Home Office guidance when presenting the best arguments for the exercise of Home Office discretion and the grant of British citizenship.

The Home Office guidance describes the types of conduct which must be taken into account when assessing whether an applicant for British citizenship meets the good character test.

The following points are key to understanding the good character test:

  1. Good character is not limited to criminal offending or having a clean record. An applicant may not meet the good character test even if they have never been convicted of an offence
  2. Home Office officials consider all the aspects of an applicant’s character. That includes breaking the law and breaching immigration rules as well as any positive contributions. For example, the applicant’s work in the community
  3. The good character test is based on the balance of probabilities
  4. Each application is considered on its merits. Applicants must answer questions fully and honestly
  5. Applicants must inform the Home Office of any significant event bearing on their good character. For example, a pending prosecution for a criminal offence or the potential for the applicant to receive a civil penalty for employing a person who did not have a right to work in the UK
  6. An applicant for British citizenship isn’t normally considered to be of good character if there are what our immigration solicitors refer to as potential red flags to good character. (However, the Home Office can exercise discretion in some situations so whatever an applicant’s past history it is still worth speaking to a British citizenship lawyer about the best prospects of making a successful application)
  7. Even if an applicant does not have a ‘red flag’ a Home Office official could still refuse a British citizenship application based on good character as the list of flags is not exhaustive
  8. A Home Office official can request that an applicant attend for interview to discuss their application

Good character flags

The Home Office guidance flags up the following matters as potential reasons for refusing a British citizenship application based on the good character requirement:

  1. Criminality – either a conviction or there are reasonable grounds to suspect involvement in crime
  2. International crimes, terrorism and other non-conducive activity
  3. Other actions that are considered not to be conducive to the public good
  4. Financial soundness – such as non-payment of taxes
  5. Deception and dishonesty – such as false benefit claims
  6. Immigration non-compliance – such as breaching visa conditions or overstaying
  7. Previous deprivation of British citizenship

The list above is not exhaustive.

Talk to OTS Solicitors about your British citizenship application

You may think it isn’t worth applying for British citizenship but you may be pleasantly surprised that you either meet the eligibility criteria or that you stand a reasonable chance of persuading the Home Office to exercise discretion and grant your British citizenship application.

Our friendly and approachable British citizenship lawyers can talk you through your good character concerns and explain how they may affect your application and advise you on your best options on when and how to apply for British citizenship.

UK Online and London-Based Immigration Solicitors and British Citizenship Lawyers 

For immigration and British citizenship law advice call London-based OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

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