Royal Citizenship Rights: How are Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and Archie affected by their move to Canada/US?

The news about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex “intending to step back” from their duties as “senior” members of the Royal Family took the world – and Buckingham Palace, by the looks of it – by surprise. Furthermore, their announcement, posted on their Instagram account on Wednesday evening, mentioned their intention to “balance” their time between the UK and North America. The couple spent six weeks in Canada following the birth of their son Archie in May, therefore it is assumed that a move to Canada is on the cards, without excluding the possibility of them living in the US as well.

Moreover, on their website, the royal couple also clarify how their media policy is changing, notably mentioning that they will “no longer participate in the Royal Rota system”, which gave exclusive access to a shortlist of British media outlets, giving them competitive advantage. The list includes publications which the Sussexes had previously expressed disapproval of or even took legal action against. The reason they give for scrapping their participation in the Royal Rota system is due to “their wish to reshape and broaden access to their work”. The changes would apply to their son, Archie, too, the website notes.

Importantly, the message Prince Harry and Meghan Markle convey repeatedly is their new status as financially independent royals. However, what are the legal limitations they may face should they retain their status as members of the Royal Family and, more importantly, Harry and Archie’s heir status as sixth and seventh in line to the throne?

As citizenship experts in investor immigration, CS Global Partners provides some legal background into the potential implications of being a royal citizen abroad.

  1. Can Harry and Meghan freely live and work in Canada?

Seeing as Meghan Markle has already lived in Toronto for years while working as an actress, starring in the US Suits series, it seems that there isn’t that big an adjustment for her to make from a legal stance as a US citizen living and working in Canada. However, since the TV show is US based, it is unclear whether Meghan shooting on location qualified as her working in Canada.

As for Harry, the main considerations as a UK citizen moving to Canada are quite mundane: applying for eTA to enter Canada, a work permit when running a charity, as the Sussexes mentioned they intended to do next, and where he would pay tax.

None of these should pose major concern for the royal couple, thus the answer is: yes, as far as Canadian law is concerned, Meghan and Harry should have no problem living and working in Canada.

The British government website provides further advice for UK citizens who want to move to Canada.

  1. Can Meghan and Harry decide Archie’s future without the Queen’s consent?

According to a 300-year-old royal prerogative, the ruling monarch is said to have automatic custody of all minor grandchildren. This, however, is not an Act of Parliament and also dates from the times King George I asked that he have custody of his grandchildren after disagreements with his son, later King George II. Since Queen Elizabeth is Archie’s great-grandmother, not grandmother, this royal prerogative doesn’t seem to apply.

While the Royal Marriages Act 1772 came into effect around the same time as the grandchildren custody decree, it has since been repealed and adapted to more recent times, whereas the custody prerogative has not.

If it were, then when Prince Charles – Archie’s grandfather – became sovereign, he may have custody over Archie.

Based on the updated principle regarding the ruling sovereign’s right to veto the marriage of the first six heirs to the throne, with Archie becoming sixth once Charles became the ruling monarch, it is assumed that the custody matter may in fact apply to him should it be modernised and become the law.

For now, however, Meghan and Harry do have full custody of Archie at least for as long as Queen Elizabeth reigns, unless the royal prerogative is adapted into an Act of Parliament.

  1. Can Archie have dual citizenship?

Having second citizenship comes with a series of responsibilities, but it is generally more advantageous than having single citizenship. However, certain US citizens living abroad and holding dual nationality choose to renounce their US citizenship for tax purposes, to prevent them from dual taxation1. Nonetheless, whether having dual citizenship is better depends on personal circumstances, needs and often identity principles. Furthermore, many countries don’t allow dual citizenship, however, in Archie’s case, both the UK and US do permit it.

Legally, Archie should already have dual UK-US citizenship.

His UK citizenship would have been granted to him automatically because he was born in the UK after 2006 and his father is a UK citizen. From an American perspective, Archie was born to Harry (alien) and Meghan (US Citizen raised in the US) and therefore is a legal US citizen by virtue of Section 301(g) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act (INA):

“(g) a person born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien [Harry], and the other [Meghan] a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totalling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years.”

Read more about the different types of citizenship here.

1 CS Global Partners does not provide tax advice, nor should citizenship in and of itself be confused with tax residence.

  1. Will Canada or the US ensure their safety considering international protocols on providing protection for senior officials and dignitaries when visiting?

In simple terms, state visits require the US and Canada to provide protection for their guests for the duration of their visit. However, Meghan and Harry are not simply visiting, nor are they exercising state duties while doing so, but moving to live there, albeit periodically. Therefore, their protection does not appear to be covered according to international security protocols of the host country, leaving it at Harrys and Meghan’s discretion to solve.

  1. What’s the difference between stepping back from their royal duties and renouncing their titles?

The impression that the surprise announcement from the Sussexes creates is that they may be trying to buy themselves more freedom in exchange for giving up their default royal funding, making it especially clear that they don’t want the media that they distrust to profit from them.

Does this mean that they are essentially renouncing their titles? The outcomes seem to coincide. Renouncing one’s royal title would mean losing the royal allowance and that they would no longer work under the ‘royal title’. This would also mean that they must become financially independent, in other words losing their allowance.

Interestingly, however, is the existence of a status called a ‘working royal’, which Prince William, Prince Harry and their spouses Kate and Meghan all are. Renouncing royal title would also result in loss of title as ‘working royal’. Considering their intention to continue carrying out royal duties in the name of the Queen, could Harry and Meghan have found a loophole, or will they be stripped of their ‘working royals’ status only? If the latter happens, they would essentially fall in line with Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugene’s roles in the Royal Family, who all have independent jobs and yet retain their titles as princesses.

  1. How are royal citizenship rights different to ordinary people’s rights?

Prince Harry’s status as heir to the throne remains irremovable except if the Parliament voted to do so, which seems farfetched. As a UK citizen, he abides by the same laws as ordinary British citizens.

As far as Meghan is concerned, she has the same legal rights and obligations as any other US citizen, despite the royal status. In legal and constitutional terms, Meghan Markle, is a US citizen by birth. As she currently remains in the UK on a visa, she will remain solely a US citizen until she gains the full status of British citizen (see below). As a US citizen, Meghan Markle will remain subject to US tax obligations regardless of her country of residence. It would appear that, from a tax law perspective, whether a royal citizen or not, Meghan would be treated as any citizen.

  1. Does Meghan have British citizenship?

The short answer is “Possibly.”

If Meghan intended on becoming a British citizen, which Kensington Palace had previously confirmed, she would have been subject to the same immigration law as any other foreign national.

To start with, had she intended to live in the UK, she could have applied for UK citizenship by naturalisation as a spouse. The process takes at least three years and would have prevented Meghan to spend more than three months per year abroad, which appears to be the case considering their royal tours and recent prolonged stay in Canada. However, she may have been exempt from residence restrictions since her partner, Harry, “works abroad either for the UK government or an organisation closely linked to government.” If Meghan had moved to the UK permanently before January 2017, best case scenario indicates that Meghan could have already obtained British citizenship.

Please note that CS Global Partners does not advise on obtaining British Citizenship and recommends consulting the UK government website directly.

There is no applicable precedent to a British royal taking a step back from their duties as a member of the Royal Family, except for Edward VIII’s abdication which was seven decades ago. So much has changed since then, especially as regards the media landscape, the accountability for unfair coverage and the advent of fake news, Harry and Meghan are now stepping on uncharted territory. Nonetheless, the surprise element and the discontent the couple expressed in recent times indicate that their determination to make this work remains unscathed, regardless of the challenges ahead.

The kinds of problems wealthy families around the world face are of a completely different nature to those most people are used to. One of the main ones is safety. Considering Princess Diana’s fatal accident and the media’s alleged role in this, along with Harry expressing concern over British media’s lack of respect for their privacy, the royal couple’s latest move begs the question: will Canadian and US media be any different from British media?