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
- hold a British passport
- get consular assistance and protection from UK diplomatic posts
- 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
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 can’t be a British subject, unless they’re also a citizen of the Republic of Ireland.
You may be able to register as a British citizen in very limited circumstances if you meet certain conditions.