Until 1949, nearly everyone with a close connection to the United Kingdom 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.
Since 1983, very few people have qualified as British subjects.
Who is a British subject
You became a British subject on 1 January 1983 if, until then, you were either:
- a British subject without citizenship, which means you were a British subject on 31 December 1948 who did not become a citizen of the UK and Colonies, a Commonwealth country, Pakistan or Ireland
- a person who had been a citizen of Ireland on 31 December 1948 and had made a claim to remain a British subject
You also became a British subject on 1 January 1983 if you were a woman who registered as a British subject on the basis of your marriage to a man in one of these categories.
You’re a British subject if you were a citizen of Ireland on 31 December 1948 and made a claim to remain a British subject.
If you did not make a claim to remain a British subject you can apply to the Home Secretary to become a British subject if either:
- you’ve been in Crown service for the UK government
- you’re associated with the UK or a British overseas territory by descent, residence or another way
You can do this by applying for a British subject passport.
Children of British subjects
British subjects cannot normally pass on that status to their children if the children were born after 1 January 1983.
However, a child may be a British subject if they were born on or after 1 January 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
Rights as a British subject
- hold a British passport
- get consular assistance and protection from UK diplomatic posts
- are usually subject to immigration controls and do not have the automatic right to live or work in the UK (there are only rare exceptions to this)
- are not considered a UK national by the European Union (EU)
Becoming a British subject
You may sometimes be able to register as a British subject if:
- you’re stateless (not recognised by any country as having a nationality)
- you were born outside the UK or British overseas territories on or after 1 January 1983
You must meet certain conditions. Read the guidance notes before you apply using Form S2.
A child under 18 can be registered as a British subject in special circumstances.
Becoming a citizen of another country
Since 1 January 1983 anyone gaining citizenship of any other country cannot be a British subject, unless they’re also a citizen of Ireland.
You may be able to register as a British citizen in very limited circumstances if you meet certain conditions.