Wed | Sep 27, 2023

Immigration Corner | What is the meaning of British subject?

Published:Tuesday | June 6, 2023 | 12:25 AM

Dear Mr Bassie,

I am not sure what the meaning of the ‘British subject’ status is. Would you kindly explain.


Dear KG,

It is worthy of note that until 1949, nearly everyone with a close connection to the United Kingdom (UK) was called a ‘British subject’. That is all citizens of Commonwealth countries were collectively referred to as ‘British subjects’ until January 1983. However, please be aware that this was not an official status for most of them. Since 1983, very few people have qualified as British subjects.


Persons became a British subject on January 1, 1983, if until then, they were either a British subject without citizenship, which means they were a British subject on December 31, 1948, who did not become a citizen of the UK and Colonies, a Commonwealth country, Pakistan, or Ireland.

Alternatively, they were persons who had been a citizen of Ireland on December 31, 1948 and had made a claim to remain a British subject.

Persons also became a British subject on January 1, 1983, if they were a woman who registered as a British subject on the basis of their marriage to a man in one of these categories.


A person is a British subject if he/she was a citizen of Ireland on December 31, 1948, and made a claim to remain a British subject.

If persons did not make a claim to remain a British subject, they can apply to the Home Secretary to become a British subject if either:

• They have been in Crown service for the United Kingdom government

• They are associated with the United Kingdom or a British overseas territory by descent, residence, or another way.

Please note that persons can do this by applying for a British subject passport.


Persons should note that British subjects cannot normally pass on that status to their children if the children were born after January 1, 1983.

However, a child may be a British subject if they were born on or after January 1, 1983, in the United Kingdom or a British overseas territory and all the following apply when they are born:

• One of their parents is a British subject

• Neither parent is a British citizen, British overseas territories citizen, or British overseas citizen

• They would be stateless without British subject status.


Persons’ rights as a British subject can include holding a British passport and getting consular assistance and protection from United Kingdom diplomatic posts.

However, those persons are usually subject to immigration controls and do not have the automatic right to live or work in the United Kingdom. Please note that there are only rare exceptions to this. In addition, those persons are not considered a UK national by the European Union (EU).


Stateless people

Persons may sometimes be able to register as a British subject if they are stateless, that is not recognised by any country as having a nationality or if they were born outside of the United Kingdom or British overseas territories on or after January 1, 1983.

Please be aware that persons must meet certain conditions before applying. It is advisable that persons read the guidance notes before they apply using Form S2.

I hope this helps.

John S. Bassie is a barrister/attorney-at-law who practises law in Jamaica. He is a justice of the peace, a Supreme Court-appointed mediator, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, a chartered arbitrator, the global president of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and a member of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (UK). Email: