Wednesday, January 06, 2016
how to apply for british citizenship (2015/16)
Look what arrived in a nondescript little envelope yesterday. A spanking new British passport, ready to unlock more than 65 countries for travel.
Ironically, my "travel years" are not in their prime time, but it's still good to know that I can hop over to Paris for lunch or go to Canada, Australia and the rest of Europe without blinking an eye.
Getting to this point is expensive and lengthy.
For those undergoing the procedure, I advise that you take the journey as chunks, ticking off milestones as you go along.
Visa and immigration requirements change on a yearly basis, usually in April, so no doubt this will change, but for the moment, this is how you go about this:
You can only apply for "naturalisation" or "citizenship" once you have Indefinite Leave to Remain (permanent residence.)
- Usually ILR is granted to you after living in the UK for 5 years (or married to a Brit, living here, for 2). The procedure for applying for ILR is the most costly out of all the processes, and also requires the most paperwork. Don't throw the paperwork away, you'll need it all again.
- You have to prove that you haven't left the country for more than 180 days each year (2015 guidelines), and it has to be a natural progression from a working visa, spousal/partner visa or ancestral visa, among other criteria.
Once you have ILR:
1) If you're not married to an EU or British national, you need to wait a full year before applying for citizenship;
2) If you are married to one (I am), you can apply straight away.
But before you do this: if you want to remain tied to South Africa in any way (ie: dual citizenship), you need to apply for this first. South Africa is one of the few countries that doesn't naturally allow you take on another citizenship alongside it; you have to ask.
- Go to the SA consulate and collect the forms. It's not South Africa House, but the small office with the long queue opposite it, off Trafalgar Square. Get there early.
- Pay the money, and this will request for a letter to announce that you're not already a British citizen. It's madness. (Because why would you be doing this in the first place?) Grit your teeth and wait for the letter.
- Once it arrives, apply for British naturalisation as soon as you can, as this letter expires after a few months.
- Collect naturalisation forms from a Post Office, and once again fill out exactly how many days you've spent out of the country for the past 5/6 years.
- Get a countersignature. This person has to have a 'professional' qualification, so they have to be in a profession that would typically be represented by a union or government body, such as an accountant, teacher, doctor or lawyer.
- Get letters from work, salary slips/P60s, utility bills, bank statements, your university degree (in my case, for a Tier 1 working visa), and basically most of the papers you needed for ILR.
- If you're applying for citizenship from a spousal point of view, you'll obviously need other stuff - not sure what these are, but been told you need to prove that your relationship is real by providing lots of personal correspondence and other things.
- You can use the Check and Send service (an extra £20 or so) at selected post offices to check that you have everything you need before filing the application with the Home Office, or you can be a dumb ass like me and do it via an immigration agency. (And pay anything from £500 for the privilege. I'm a sucker.)
- Then wait. For anything up to 6-7 months. My application was processed in about that time.
In this time they'll do tons of background checks on you, apparently more than when you applied for ILR. So any traffic fines, dodgy stuff, missed payments, and so forth will be noticed and possibly affect your application.
- When the magical letter arrives to say that you have been approved for citizenship, hug something. Because the hardest part is over!
- They'll then send you a Citizenship Ceremony invitation. You phone the number and arrange the day you want to do it; it'll be in the borough in which you live. Mine was at Wandsworth Town Hall, and all fairly straightforward.
- Go to the ceremony, pledge your allegiance to Queen and country, sing the anthem, and proudly take your Naturalisation Certificate that announces you a British National. Get a photo.
Keep this certificate safe. You'll need it for everytime you reapply for a passport.
- Go back to the post office. Grab the forms to apply for your First British Passport. Use the Check and Send service again to check your passport photos, forms, certificate and countersignature. I had to redo mine three times. I blame the yuletide fog in my brain and general lethargy. As a result, my passport photo for the next ten years looks like a becrazed, angry woman who has been taken into custody. But, whatever.
- You can't expedite your first passport, so prepare for 6 weeks without travel. You also have to hand in your SA passport.
- Your SA passport and certificate should come back after a week though. Then, after a few more weeks, you'll get another letter asking you to come in for an interview at Her Majesty's Passport Office.
- Phone the number and book the appointment.
- It'll be about 20 minutes long and they'll ask you anything from how you met your husband (got this), to describing in detail what you do (got this), to what colour your toothbrush is.
- Two days later I received my passport. But prepare to wait a couple more weeks.
Besides the admin, paper chasing and filing, and endless waiting, the thing that frustrates many people is the cost. I was lucky, as my work paid for my ILR, visa applications, and agency fees, which runs into well over £6 000. Citizenship cost me personally another £2 000, with a passport application all in.
All in all though? This process can cost anyone up to £10 000 over a period of a few years (at current 2015/2016 rates), with full agency fees. Expect to pay a few thousand less if you don't use any agencies, although I wouldn't recommend this.
Best of luck. As they all say, it's worth it in the end.