Know how royal citizenship rights affected Meghan Markle, Prince Harry and Archie?

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.

What’s the difference between them withdrawing from royal duties and renouncing their titles?

It appears that the Sussexes are trying to gain more freedom in exchange for giving up their default royal funding, largely because they don’t want the media they distrust to profit from them. So, does this mean that they are essentially renouncing their titles?

The outcomes seem to coincide. Giving up one’s royal title would mean losing the royal allowance and becoming financially independent, and no longer working under the ‘royal title’. Yet Meghan and Harry only seem to be doing the first of those things.

The existence of the ‘working royal’ status is also interesting, which is something Harry and Meghan both have, as do Prince William and Kate Middleton. Renouncing their royalty would cost them this title too. But as Meghan and Harry intend to continue carrying out royal duties in the name of the Queen, it seems that they’ve just been stripped of their ‘working royals’ status, rather than their titles as a whole. This makes them like Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, who have independent jobs yet retain their titles as princesses.

How are royal citizenship rights different from ordinary people’s?

Prince Harry’s status as heir to the throne stands unless the UK Parliament voted to remove it, which seems unlikely. However, as a UK citizen, he abides by the same laws as anyone else, which impacts his life in the US. As far as Meghan is concerned, she has the same legal rights and obligations as any other US citizen, despite her royal status.

Can Harry freely live and work in the US?

Relocating to the US was easy for Meghan and Archie legally speaking as they’re both US citizens. It’s a little more complicated for Harry. Although UK citizens can remain in the country for up to 90 days under its visa waiver programme, he can’t work there and would have to leave and re-enter the US again to extend his stay in the country. It’s unclear how he has been able to remain there so long already, however. 

The fact that Harry is married to a US citizen does make him eligible for permanent residency though. This would give him a Green Card and allow him to apply for US citizenship after three years — you can learn more about the difference between citizenship and residency here. Yet, he is reportedly reluctant to take this step as he would have to renounce his royal titles. This is because the US constitution rejects the recognition of inherited titles so royalty is not acknowledged at all.

As such, Harry’s best bet right now is probably to apply for a US O1 visa, which is reserved for foreign nationals with extraordinary ability. He probably wouldn’t qualify for this purely through his fame, but he may be able to argue that his extensive philanthropy work proves this ability. Harry would also need to demonstrate that he’ll be working in that field during his time in the US, so his and Meghan’s plans to launch a non-profit could work in his favour.

Alternative options include applying for a student or diplomatic visa. However, he’s unlikely to enrol as a student simply to get a visa and the prince probably wouldn’t qualify for the diplomatic documentation as he’s stepped back from his senior royal role. Harry could also theoretically buy residency through the US’s residency by investment programme. This type of scheme gives individuals the chance to acquire residency in return for investing in a country in areas like real estate and government funds. For example, here at CS Global Partners, we offer our clients the opportunity to take part in the residency by investment programmes of Greece, Portugal and Singapore.

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

Does Meghan have British citizenship?

The short answer is possibly. Kensington Palace previously confirmed that Meghan intended to apply for UK citizenship, and would therefore be subject to the same immigration laws as any other foreign national. To start with, she could have applied for British citizenship through naturalisation as a spouse of Harry. The process takes at least three years and would have prevented Meghan from spending more than three months per year abroad.

However, she may have been exempt from residence restrictions since Harry “works abroad […] for an organisation closely linked to the government”. Consequently, Meghan could have already obtained British citizenship, though this hasn’t been confirmed.

Can Archie hold dual citizenship?

Having dual citizenship has numerous advantages including personal and professional security, greater economic opportunities and access to multiple healthcare systems. Archie has dual UK-US citizenship, as he was born in the UK and is the son of a US citizen, making him a legal US citizen by virtue of Section 301(g) of the US Immigration and Nationality Act. Read more about the different types of citizenship here.

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 is not a legally-binding Act of Parliament, however, and since Queen Elizabeth is Archie’s great-grandmother, not grandmother, this wouldn’t apply anyway. If it does become law when Prince Charles — Archie’s grandfather — becomes sovereign, he may gain custody over Archie. But for now, that isn’t the case.

Will the US ensure their safety in the country?

Generally speaking, the US is required to provide protection during royal state visits. However, Meghan and Harry are not simply visiting nor exercising state duties in the country but living there. Therefore, their protection does not appear to be covered according to US international security protocols.

British royals haven’t stepped back from their duties since Edward VIII’s abdication seven decades ago. So much has changed since then, especially the royal family’s relationship with the media, and Harry and Meghan are stepping into uncharted territory. Nonetheless, the couple’s obvious recent discontent indicates their determination to make this work, regardless of the challenges ahead. But while the immigration status of Meghan and Archie is clear, we’re yet to find out which route Harry has or will go down to stay in the US. Considering his high-profile status, however, don’t be surprised to hear more on his future before long.