Lens Blog

Psychological insight on current affairs


posted on 24th February 2019

Javid’s hard line leaves 3 million Brits with second-tier citizenship

This week, Home Secretary Sajid Javid trumpeted his willingness to ‘protect’ Britain by stripping UK nationals of their citizenship based on ‘citizenship by descent’ rules – even if the individual in question has never been to said country nor applied for a passport.

This decision splits UK-born citizens into two categories – those whose citizenship is protected, and those for whom it can be removed by the state. The test is only that depriving them of citizenship would be “conducive to the public good”. The government says it can use it for those involved in ‘serious crime’ – and just a few weeks ago, the Home Secretary described as ‘serious criminals’ to Parliament a group of immigrants, some of whom had been convicted only of drug offences.

New analysis by Global Future reveals as many as 3 million British citizens, born in the UK, now effectively have second-tier citizenship – not including a further 7 million of Irish or Jewish descent.


Up to 3 million Brits’ citizenship is undermined by the Javid approach

We focus on major immigrant communities in the UK: British Asians and black British citizens from Africa and the Caribbean – though others will be affected.

Most of these countries have generous citizenship by descent rules. The following table is based on a short survey of nationality law in major countries of origin for historic immigration.

CountryConditions to acquire citizenship by descentConditions to pass citizenship by descent to third generation
IndiaBorn before 2004: either parent an Indian citizen

Born after 2004: either parent Indian & birth registered with diplomatic mission

No additional conditions
PakistanEither parent a Pakistani citizenRegister with diplomatic mission
BangladeshBorn before 2009: Father a Bangladesh citizen

Born after 2009: Either parent a Bangladesh citizen

Register with diplomatic mission
JamaicaEither parent a Jamaican citizenNo additional conditions
NigeriaEither parent a Nigerian citizenNo additional conditions

Sources: IndiaPakistanBangladeshJamaicaNigeria

Figures from the 2011 Census show how many residents of England and Wales belong to different ethnic groups. Ethnicity is self-identified by census respondents so it is hard to draw firm conclusions about dual citizenship on this basis. However, given the liberal nature of these rules for citizenship by descent, it’s likely that those identifying with Black or Asian heritage would qualify, as would many of mixed background.

The table below shows how many UK-born people identify with the selected ethnic groups in England & Wales. Up to 3 million potentially held dual citizenship since birth, whether or not they are aware of this.

Ethnic groupNumber of UK-born
Asian/Asian British: Indian606,298
Asian/Asian British: Pakistani631,171
Asian/Asian British: Bangladeshi232,089
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British: African323,276
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British: Caribbean357,690
Mixed: White and Black Caribbean401,110
Mixed: White and Black African113,146
Mixed: White and Asian270,633


We have not surveyed citizenship law for all the nationalities included in the Black African and Black Caribbean groups. Nigerian and Jamaican backgrounds are, respectively, comfortably the most common national backgrounds in these groups.

And up to 7 million more could be affected

Since the 2014 Immigration Act, the Home Secretary has possessed a further power to strip people of British citizenship even if they do not hold a second nationality, as long as they could qualify to acquire one. This does not appear to be the power the government is exercising in the Shamima Begum case; as of April 2016, it had never been used.

If this wider-reaching power came into greater use, as other revocation powers have in the last few years, the number of people affected could potentially be far larger. At the 2011 Census, there were 213,573 UK-born Jews in England & Wales. Almost all of these people could acquire Israeli citizenship under the country’s Law of Return. Under the Good Friday Agreement, anyone born in Northern Ireland can access citizenship of the Republic of Ireland; in total, the BBC has estimated that 6.7 million people in the UK could qualify for an Irish passport thanks to the country’s unusually generous rules for citizenship by descent. All of these people could come within the scope of the Home Secretary’s broader citizenship revocation power, though its legal limits have not yet been tested in court.