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I am an Australian living and working in the UK on an Ancestry Visa. I have been here for 4 years, and my Visa expires in another 1 year. My wife is a British Citizen, and we would like to stay here in the UK.

Looking at http://www.gov.uk it seems my two options are gaining British Citizenship which I believe I am eligible for due to my wife being British, or gaining Indefinite Leave to Remain, which I should be eligible for at the end of my Ancestry Visa.

Is there a practical difference between these, assuming we want to stay in the UK long term?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Settlement (aka indefinite leave to remain, ILR) means you retain your existing nationality, gain the right to live and work in the UK, but do not gain right of abode. To travel outside the UK you would still need to use your existing passport, and acquire visas as a national of your native country where required. You would still use the overseas channel at UK border control.

ILR can lapse if you stay away from the UK for longer than 2 years, meaning you would require a new visa. It is easier for ILR to be revoked than citizenship. Citizenship is (normally) for life, but using powers in the British Nationality Act, the UK Home Secretary can terminate the British citizenship of dual-nationality individuals if he/she believes their presence in the UK is 'not conducive to the public good', or if they have obtained their citizenship through fraud.[3]

British citizenship confers some additional rights, such as:

  • Ability to apply for a UK passport
  • Reciprocal rights in EU countries (eg. health benefits, travel rights, working rights)
  • The right to vote and to stand for public office.

Gaining British citizenship costs more and, for some countries, may affect your right to retain your original citizenship (aka dual nationality). The UK does not have restrictions on multiple citizenship, but other countries do. There may be tax implications of changing citizenship for nationals of some countries. Some employers may (illegally) favour job applications from British citizens.

Based on the description of your specific situation, you will probably be eligible to apply for either one of settlement or citizenship. Those pages give checklists and guidance.

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2  
Indefinite Leave to Remain can be revoked and lost in many circumstances. These circumstances can include an immigration officer not believing it's your intent to remain permanently in the UK, or you being out the country for a significant period. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indefinite_leave_to_remain#Loss has more information on this. Conversely, citizenship is very seldom lost (and is un-losable if it's your only citizenship). It has, however, been revoked in cases such as fraud / espionage. –  oskarpearson Mar 21 at 0:05
    
Yes. I wanted it to be clear that citizenship isn't quite as 'for life' it it might otherwise appear. But that's probably made it less obvious that ILR is relatively easy to revoke. I'll edit that. Thanks @oskarpearson –  nanoamp Mar 21 at 15:00
1  
Citizenship also has duties, like being called up for the army (unlikely at present). –  Ian Ringrose Apr 25 at 15:28

The most significant difference is that as a British citizen, you can apply for a British passport.

As a British citizen (with a British passport) you can travel and work in countries where you may otherwise have had to apply for a visa.

As you are Australian, you can become a British citizen without losing your Australian citizenship (this is often called "dual nationality"). Some other nationalities do not allow this.

There are also differences in eligibility criteria and cost of applications.

Finally, in some circumstances, your indefinite leave to remain may become invalidated (for example, if you are permanently outside the UK for more than 2 years).

If you are eligible for both, I would suggest that becoming naturalised is a safer choice and the most flexible in terms of your ability to travel.

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Most important difference would be that as a UK citizen, you have the right to move to and work in any EU country. I may be wrong, but I would think that having indefinite leave to remain in the UK wouldn't give you the right to live in France, Germany, Italy and so on. And if you go on holiday from the UK, you need to check whether you need a visa and get one if required. (I witnessed that problem when I went on a holiday somewhere in North Africa, and a woman from New Zealand was refused at the airport because she had no visa. Travel agents would tend not to think about that and not warn you).

Then of course you need to decide whether you actually want to become a British citizen.

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+1 You are right ILR (or permanent residency in other EU countries) does not open the same rights in the EU. –  Gala Mar 21 at 13:27

Another difference, implied in @nanoamp's answer, is if you already have multiple citizenships. I'm an Argentine, holding dual Argentine and Italian citizenships. I now live in Chile, where I have obtained permanent resident status (I believe it's the equivalent to "Indefinite Leave to Remain").

If I were to ask for the Chilean citizenship, I would have to check whether a tri-partite agreement between Argentina, Italy and Chile exists to grant me triple citizenship, or if any of the three has rules against triple citizenship; or else I would have to renounce one of my citizenships.

@GaëlLaurans mentions

Absent any agreement or local law, you can always get additional citizenships, there is no need for an explicit agreement between all three countries. It would only be a problem if either Argentina, Italy or Chile have rules against it (and of course, absent any agreement you could have issues with things like military service). Many countries that are generally hostile to dual citizenship for naturalized citizens also make exceptions when it's not possible to renounce your other citizenship.

In my case in particular, I know that Argentina does not allow a citizen to renounce citizenship. I also had to prove that I had fulfilled my military service duties in Argentina to the Italian Government, in order to be exempt from the Italian military service.

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That's not quite how it works. Absent any agreement or local law, you can always get additional citizenships, there is no need for an explicit agreement between all three countries. It would only be a problem if either Argentina, Italy or Chile have rules against it (and of course, absent any agreement you could have issues with things like military service). Many countries that are generally hostile to dual citizenship for naturalized citizens also make exceptions when it's not possible to renounce your other citizenship (+1 good point otherwise). –  Gala Mar 21 at 13:24
    
Good comment, I will rephrase. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Mar 21 at 13:25

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