Applying British Nationality : Good Character Requirement

According to Part I, Chapter 18 of the British Nationality Act 1981, a person is entitled to naturalisation as British citizen if at the time of the consideration meets some requirements, such as being of good character. However, the Act itself does not provide with a definition of good character.

In absence of a statutory definition as to how this requirement should be interpreted or applied, it is the Secretary of State who should be satisfied that an applicant is of good character. In order for the Secretary of State to make an assessment on good character, Annex D of Chapter 18 of BNA contains a guidance with information on how to assess if the applicant is of good character. This guidance also applies to minors above the age of ten.

Annex D of the Good Character Requirement, Part 1, Chapter 18 of the British National Act 1981

This guidance has recently suffered some amendments by the Home Office, which apply to all decisions taken on or after 11 December 2014.

Prior to these amendments, the guidance included as disqualifying behaviours: have been suspected or convicted of a criminal activity; have been involved in or associated with war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, terrorism, or with other actions that are not conducive to the public good. It also included factors such has lack of financial soundness, notoriety, deception or dishonesty. All these factor still remain in the new guidance, along with new factors relating to the applicant’s immigration history.

Indeed, the guidance has added to the list of behaviours that indicate that a person is not off good character: illegal entry, assisting illegal migration and evasion immigration control. These new factors are included within Section 9 of the Annex D and read as follows:

9.5 Illegal Entry

In circumstances where an applicant entered the UK illegally, an application for citizenship should normally be refused for a period of 10 years from the date of entry, if it is known. If it is not known, the period of 10 years starts from the date on which the person first brought themselves to or came to the attention of the Home Office.

9.6 Assisting Illegal Migration

The decision maker will normally refuse an application if there are grounds for believing that the person is currently, or has previously been, involved in an attempt to assist someone in the evasion of immigration control. This includes a person whose spouse’s/civil partner’s recent application for entry clearance has been refused on relationship grounds.

9.7 Evasion of immigration control

The decision maker will normally refuse an application if within the 10 years preceding the application the person has not been compliant with immigration requirements, including but not limited to having:

  1. failed to report
  2. failed to comply with any conditions imposed under the Immigration Acts
  3. been detected working in the UK without permission

Most refugees do not have legal means of reaching the UK, therefore will be prevented from qualifying for British citizenship for at least 10 years from the date of the illegal entry into the UK– as opposed to the previous period of six years. This clearly contradicts some International obligations which prohibits any form of prosecution of refugees on account of the legal entry or presence in the host territory. These provisions read as follows:

Article 31 of the Refugee Convention:

The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.

Article 34 of the Refugee Convention:

The Contracting States shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees. They shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings.

To this regard, Mr. James Brokenshire, the Immigration and Security Minister, has recently clarified in a letter that the rules may not apply to people who have been granted refugee status:

[…] The instruction is that applications should “normally” be refused as there will, of course, be circumstances where it would not be appropriate to do so. One such example is where an individual enters the UK illegally, but is subsequently granted refugee status […]

Similarly, where an individual enters clandestinely, but presents themselves to the authorities within a reasonable time period and has their asylum claim accepted, an application will not be refused solely on the grounds of the initial illegal entry […]


Yet, Mr. Brokenshire statement is vague and ambiguous, which can lead the discretionary power of the Secretary of State to refuse naturalisation as British citizens to refugees. In fact, Mr. Brokenshire states that this new requirements would not apply to those refugees who sought asylum within a reasonable time period, but without clarifying what should be interpreted as “reasonable” in this context. Indeed, some refugees flee their country due to fear of persecution and arrive in the UK without knowing anything about the asylum process, and it takes them months to come across to it e.g. through NGOs or Churches, and submit an application.

Another issue that Mr. Brokenshire did not specify is the extent of evasion of migration control as to consider this of not good character. Is someone of not good character for missing one reporting day?

Parting Shot

British nationality law has always been an complex area of immigration law thanks to the numerous registration that govern this area , the new requirement of good character only makes is even more difficult for someone to understand their eligibility for applying  successfully to become British and given that such application are not appealable (like ordinary visas are), one would be wish to seek the services of an knowledge UK immigration lawyer before applying and risking wasting valuable resources.

If you have been affected by  any  UK immigration matter, Please contact Solicitor  Tito, a UK immigration and human rights solicitor, for a free initial consultation about your legal options. Call 07544 669131 or on Skype: tito.mbariti.