On 31 July 2023, the Home Office implemented changes to the good character requirement for naturalisation applications which now make it more difficult for individuals with a criminal record to obtain British citizenship.
What is the good character requirement?
The ‘good character’ requirement arises in statute, set out in schedule 1 to the British Nationality Act 1981. There is, however, no statutory definition and the requirement is instead very much at the discretion of the Secretary of State. The definition has evolved over time in her policy guidance and currently a number of factors are considered when determining whether someone is of ‘good character’, including criminality, international crimes, terrorism and other non-conducive activity, financial soundness, notoriety, deception and dishonesty and immigration-related issues.
With regards to criminality, since 2012, applicants are required to disclose all convictions, regardless of whether or not they are ‘spent’ under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (1974 Act). This means the Home Office will take into account any past convictions regardless of when they took place.
What has changed?
The policy guidance was amended so that for applications made on or after 31 July 2023, the previous sentence-based criminality thresholds for good character no longer apply.
Now, anyone who has received at least a 12-month custodial sentence (or consecutive sentences totaling at least 12 months) will normally have their naturalisation application refused no matter how much time has passed since the sentence finished. This marks a significant change, as prior to 31 July 2023, this was only the case for those who had received a sentence of at least 4 years or more. Applications will also normally be refused if an applicant is determined to be a ‘persistent offender’, has committed an offence which has caused serious harm or committed a sexual offence, or their details are recorded by the police on a register.
Furthermore, for applications made after 31 July 2023, the guidance now states an applicant must have their naturalisation application refused if they have a custodial sentence of less than 12 months or a non-custodial sentence or out-of-court disposal recorded on their criminal record and the Secretary of State is not satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the applicant is good character. Prior to 31 July 2023, the sentence-based thresholds set out that an application would normally only be refused for a person with a custodial sentence of less than 12 months if a period of 10 years had not passed, or for a person with a non-custodial sentence or out-of-court disposal if a period of 3 years had not passed. The factors the Home Office states it will consider when considering ‘the balance of probabilities’ is therefore much vaguer than the previous sentence-based thresholds and makes it much more difficult to determine the likelihood of whether an application may be successful or not.
The policy guidance does state that exceptional grants of citizenship may be possible. However, applicants will need to provide strong mitigating circumstances that would evidence sufficient rehabilitation in addition to countervailing evidence of good character, and cases will ultimately be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
If you or someone you know needs advice on their naturalisation application and may be concerned about the good character requirement, we would be happy to help. Please contact us on 0207 401 6887 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.