South Africans now qualify for British citizenship after recent law changes. See details

This will affect how UK citizenship passes down through generations. Unlike prior law changes, these are retroactive. This means, that if you would be British but for the fact that your ancestor was of the wrong gender, you are now entitled to British citizenship.

If you, your spouse, your parent, grandparent or even great-grandparent was born in the UK, it’s now worth finding out of you can qualify under this new legislation.

UK nationality advisers at Sable International expect the most common cases to be where children were born out of wedlock and when an ancestor was born in a British Overseas Territory.

British nationality for children born out of wedlock

Historically, children who were born out of wedlock were classed as “illegitimate” and could not inherit British citizenship from their fathers.

This injustice was partly remedied by law changes in 2006, but these changes were not retroactive. So only children born out of wedlock after 1 July 2006 could automatically inherit citizenship through their UK-born fathers. Those born prior to that date could submit a special, complex, application to prove that they were discriminated against.

This could have ramifications if you, yourself, were born out of wedlock but also if your parent was and would have otherwise inherited a form of British citizenship they could pass down to you.

British Overseas Territories citizenship

When the British Empire dissolved, British Subjects who had ancestral links to the UK or its colonies were given a new status: Citizenship of the UK and Colonies (CUKC).

Later, CUKCs who were connected to the UK itself, through having UK-born parents or grandparents (or women who were married to men who had those connections), were given the “right of abode”. These particular CUKCs were given full British citizenship in 1983.

However, those who were only connected to the colonies (now known as British Overseas Territories), were given a separate status: British Overseas Territories Citizenship (BOTC), which did not include the right to live in the UK. In 2002, these BOTCs were granted automatic British citizenship and so were some of their children. However, prior to 1983, BOTC mothers could not pass down their status to children born outside of the UK and colonies. This meant that those children missed out in 2002.

Now that gender discrimination has been corrected, which means those children can now claim British citizenship.

This might affect you if your mother, or even grandmother in some cases, was born in one of the British Overseas Territories:

  • Anguilla
  • Bermuda
  • British Antarctic Territory
  • British Indian Ocean territory
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Cayman Islands
  • Falkland Islands
  • Gibraltar
  • Montserrat
  • Pitcairn Islands
  • Saint Helena
  • Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
  • Sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia
  • Turks and Caicos Islands

New routes to UK citizenship for South Africans

If any of the following apply, you should get in touch with us to find out if you qualify:

  • You were married before 1 January 1983 to a spouse who could (or should) have been British
  • You have a UK-born grandmother and were born before 1 January 1988 in a country defined as a “foreign country” (which included South Africa after 30 May 1962)
  • You have a UK-born grandmother and your relevant parent spent at least three years in the UK before your birth
  • You were born between 1 January 1949 and 31 December 1982 and have a grandparent (but not a paternal grandfather) born in the UK

It’s also worth noting that, previously, a great grandparent has generally been a generation too far back for you to inherit British citizenship. Now, with the knock-on effect of correcting discrimination all the way back for generations, you might just qualify. In order to inherit British citizenship from a great grandparent, you will need to have connections to other UK colonies and your parent or grandparent will need to have held a status such as the CUKC status mentioned above.

As a general rule, you should explore your rights to British nationality if you:

  • Were adopted
  • Have a UK-born grandparent or great grandparent
  • Have a parent or grandparent born in a former British territory
  • Were married before 1983 to a person who had a family link back to the UK or a former British territory

It is expected that this new law’s commencement date will be later this year (around October).

British nationality law is extraordinarily complex. Sable International’s citizenship and immigration consultants can help you determine your chances for a claim and get you into the queue for applications as soon as the new law comes into effect. 

Fill in their free UK Citizenship Assessment or contact the team on +44 (0) 20 7759 5330 or +27 (0) 21 657 2180. Alternatively, you can send an email to