A new route to British citizenship for people of Chagoth descent

The Home Office has launched a new application process for people of Chagossian descent to obtain British citizenship or British overseas territories citizenship. The introduction of this route is certainly welcome. Whilst the Chagossians are still fighting to return to their homeland, this is a step in the right direction for Britain to acknowledge and remedy the treatment of Chagossians.  

Background

The history of Chagos Island is complex. The islands were once administered by Britain, creating the British Indian Ocean Territory. Between 1967 and 1973, the UK deported all islanders to Mauritius and Seychelles to give way for the United States to set up a military base. Unable to return home, many islanders faced destitution and homelessness.

In 2002, the UK decided to grant British citizenship to British Overseas Territories citizens and, at that point, the Chagossians gained British citizenship. However, this only applied to people who were born in the Chagos Islands and to their children. As it did not extend to grandchildren or great-grandchildren, families were often torn apart.

Following years of campaigning and resistance from the government, an amendment to the Nationality and Borders Act was eventually added earlier this year. People of Chagossian descent now have a five-year period to register as British citizens if they wish to do so.

The application

The application process opened on 23 November and the Home Office has published a brief guide for applicants.

Applicants can apply for British overseas territory citizenship or British citizenship at the same time and if successful, most will obtain both statuses. If the individual already has one or the other, they can apply and obtain the alternative using this application.

Applications can be made either online or using a paper form. Applicants living overseas will need to attend a biometrics appointment at a visa centre after submitting their applications.

The requirements for the application seem fairly straightforward. As usual, applicants are expected to provide a form of ID, national passport or national identity card. The Home Office states that alternative forms of ID may be accepted and that further guidance will be issued on this.

Applicants will need to provide evidence that they are the descendant of someone who was born in the Chagos Islands, usually by way of a series of birth certificates and ID documents. The evidence should prove a clear line of descent between the applicant and someone born in the Chagos Islands. Other evidence that can be submitted to show a direct line of descent includes medical or dental records, marriage certificates, court records, and records of name changes.

One of the major concerns for applicants is likely to be to obtain documents to prove they are indeed descendants, especially considering the circumstances in which Chagossians were forcibly removed and deported from their homes. Applicants should provide an explanation in their application where documents are missing, or where information within a document is missing.

The Home Office indicates that if some evidence is not available, they will attempt to check their records to locate this. The British Indian Ocean Territory administration is in the process of digitalising the records it holds. It is unclear how long a search like this will take, or how successful it will be. The Home Office notes that most decisions will be made within six months of an applicant attending their biometrics appointment. However, some decisions could take longer.

Applicants are expected to have two referees to prove their identity, albeit if applying from abroad the requirement for one of the referees to be British is waived.

Importantly, the application is free of charge and no good character requirement applies. Applicants wishing to obtain a British passport or a certificate of entitlement to enter the UK, as an alternative to a visa, will need to pay for these.

This route will only be open for over 18’s for five years, closing on 23 November 2027. For those under the age of 18 on 23 November 2022, this route will be open until they are 18 years old. Those born between 23 November 2022 and 23 November 2027 will also have until their 18th birthday to make an application.

The application process comes with some limitations. We expect further guidance to follow shortly to address how individual’s who cannot access the forms, or who will need support making an application in English, can make their application.

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