Effects on Ms Meghan Markle’s route to British Citizenship if moved abroad

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have recently revealed that they intend to step down as senior royals and intend to ‘balance their time between North America and the UK’. How would such a change affects the Duchess’ eligibility to obtaining indefinite leave to remain?

One of the requirements of applying for indefinite leave to remain obligates ‘the applicant and their partner to have intend to live together permanently in the UK’ ‘… or there is a good reason, consistent with a continuing intention to live together permanently in the UK, for any period in which they have not done so’.  This means that the Sussexes would need to support the Duchess’ absence in the UK with evidence demonstrating “good reason” for spending time abroad.

If as rumoured by the press that the Sussexes are intending to reside in Canada to avoid press intrusion, it would be difficult to provide evidence supporting “good reason” for spending time overseas as Canada’s privacy laws fail to meet the standard set by the European Union’s GDPR.

However, in the case where Prince Harry finds himself an official role and holds on to the usual diplomatic passport of members of the royal family, the Duchess’ time abroad could be allowed under the Crown servant exception to residency. This exception permits partners of British diplomats and officials overseas to spend the 5-years residence period needed for ILR in the country of their partner’s posting. In other words, the Duchess’ time abroad would count as residence in the UK under this exception.

Regardless, in any case, the Duchess could still be granted indefinite leave to remain at the discretion of the Home Secretary.

True stumbling block: Qualifying for British citizenship

The Home Office guidance set out the general rule that ‘the spouse of a British citizen must not have spent more than 270 days outside the UK during the 3 years prior to applying for British citizenship’. Depending on how the Sussexes plan to “balance” their time between these two countries, her absences from the UK could be a problem further down the line when the Duchess makes an application to naturalise.

Home Office policy also states that for any exercise of discretion where the excessive absences exceed 300 days, the applicant must show they have “established their home, employment, family and finances in the UK”. Nevertheless at this point in time, without further information beyond the Sussexes’ initial statement, it is too early and difficult to conclude anything regarding the Duchess’ route to be a British citizen.  

Posted on Jan 13, 2020.


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