Types of British nationality

5. British subject

Until 1949, nearly everyone with a close connection to the United Kingdom was called a ‘British subject’.

All citizens of Commonwealth countries were British subjects until January 1983.

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 didn’t become a citizen of the UK and Colonies, a Commonwealth country, Pakistan or the Republic of Ireland
  • a person who had been a citizen of the Republic 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.

Republic of Ireland citizens

You’re a British subject if you were a citizen of the Republic of Ireland on 31 December 1948 and made a claim to remain a British subject.

If you didn’t 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 can’t 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

You can:

  • hold a British passport
  • get consular assistance and protection from UK diplomatic posts

However, you:

  • are usually subject to immigration controls and don’t have the automatic right to live or work in the UK (there are only rare exceptions to this)
  • aren’t considered a UK national by the European Union (EU)

Becoming a British subject

Stateless people

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.

Children

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 can’t be a British subject, unless they’re also a citizen of the Republic of Ireland.

British citizenship

You may be able to register as a British citizen in very limited circumstances if you meet certain conditions.