The main eligibility criteria are:
To live in the UK for 5 years and be free from immigration restrictions for 12 months.
No more than 450 days' absences in this period and no more than 90 days in the last year.
Meet the English language and Life in the UK Test requirements.
To have good character - if you have any convictions, driving offences, bankruptcies or historic immigration issues etc, you should discuss with an immigration lawyer before applying.
Get two suitable referees to endorse your application.
Some of these points change if you are married to a British citizen.
Although I assist with naturalisation applications on a regular basis, making my own application has allowed me to look at this from a different angle. Here is a summary of my experience from the application stage to the ceremony:
It took me more than 6 years of living in the UK. I would advise anyone who wants to apply to get legal advice on all the documents they need to prepare in advance, and if they don't have an essential supporting document then they should get advice on how to get one.
The Life in the UK test is easy as long as you read the book OR practice with online mock tests, preferably both. The Home Office has an official book and the official link on the gov.uk website sells this for £12.99. A Kindle edition is cheaper and easier to access.
Most people worry about the Life in the UK test and booking the test puts them off and delays the entire application. I worried about it too and I delayed my application.
The test itself took me about five minutes and I had no doubts about any of the questions. The test costs £50 and can be booked as many times as needed. I suggest reading and practicing for no more than a week and then booking the test.
Historic absences are difficult to list, particularly for European nationals as there is no entry stamp on our passports and we can travel on identity cards. Luckily most people will have records of their trips hidden in their e-mails in the form of electronic tickets and travel confirmations. Compiling your list of absences takes time and the sooner you have the full list the easier it will be to finalise an application. You can also provide estimated dates if needed.
What happens once you apply?
After I submitted my online application, I had to attend a Sopra Steria location - this is the commercial partner of UKVI for in-country applications. A picture of me was taken and I then scanned my fingerprints on a machine that resembles a self-checkout.
I then received a confirmation by e-mail which says standard processing time is six months. I applied in the beginning of March and attended my ceremony which is not part of the processing time at the end of July so applications can be processed quicker.
After I received the letter confirming my application had been allowed, I had to book my citizenship ceremony with my local Council. The letter from the Home Office is required both to book and to attend the ceremony - do not forget your letter as you cannot be admitted without it. An invitation was separately posted to me.
What happens at the ceremony?
There is a speech which welcomes the new citizens who then take a religious Oath of Allegiance or a non-religious affirmation. This is then followed by a Citizenship Pledge. You do not need to memorise these as you will be asked to repeat in parts.
I could not take photos of the ceremony itself, but we were allowed to take photos in the room once the ceremony was complete. We could also take a photo when we were presented with our Certificate of naturalisation. We were then invited to an inner room and enjoyed cake and coffee.
If I want a British passport, I will need to make another application but the certificate of naturalisation confirms I am now British. I cannot enter the UK on a certificate of naturalisation and a British passport will probably be useful in the future in light of Brexit.
I'm glad I went through the process, but even as an immigration lawyer who deals with these applications on a regular basis, waiting for a decision was a worrying time. The application costs £1,330 and if you are refused you receive a refund of only £80: so it is an expensive process if you make a mistake. Fortunately, I had my application checked by another member of my team which gave me extra peace of mind.
If you are considering applying for British citizenship, we can provide specialised advice and support throughout your application. Please do not hesitate to get in touch should you require further information.