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British Overseas citizen

British Overseas citizen

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In British nationality law
British nationality law
British nationality law is the law of the United Kingdom that concerns citizenship and other categories of British nationality. The law is complex because of the United Kingdom's former status as an imperial power.-History:...

, the status of British Overseas citizen (BOC) is one of several categories of British national. A British Overseas citizen does not have an automatic right to live in the United Kingdom.

British Nationality Act 1981

The British Nationality Act 1981
British Nationality Act 1981
The British Nationality Act 1981 was an Act of Parliament passed by the British Parliament concerning British nationality. It has been the basis of British nationality law since 1 January 1983.-History:...

 came into force on 1 January 1983, and divided Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKCs) into three categories:
  • British citizens

CUKCs with the right of abode
Right of abode
The right of abode is an individual's freedom from immigration control in a particular country. A person who has the right of abode in a country does not need permission from the government to enter the country and can live and work there without restriction....

 in the United Kingdom and Islands (i.e. the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands
Channel Islands
The Channel Islands are an archipelago of British Crown Dependencies in the English Channel, off the French coast of Normandy. They include two separate bailiwicks: the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Bailiwick of Jersey...

 and the Isle of Man
Isle of Man
The Isle of Man , otherwise known simply as Mann , is a self-governing British Crown Dependency, located in the Irish Sea between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland, within the British Isles. The head of state is Queen Elizabeth II, who holds the title of Lord of Mann. The Lord of Mann is...

) by virtue of a close connection therewith, e.g. by birth or descent from a person born in the UK & Islands, became British citizens.

  • British Dependent Territories citizens

CUKCs with a close connection with one of the United Kingdom's Dependent Territories
Crown colony
A Crown colony, also known in the 17th century as royal colony, was a type of colonial administration of the English and later British Empire....

 became British Dependent Territories citizens (BDTCs), subsequently renamed British Overseas Territories citizen
British Overseas Territories citizen
The status of British Overseas Territories citizen relates to persons holding British nationality by virtue of a connection with a British Overseas Territory.-British Nationality Act 1981:...

s (BOTCs). It was possible for a person to acquire British citizenship and BDTC at the same time. For example, a person born in Bermuda before 1983 with a parent born in the United Kingdom would have acquired both nationalities.

  • British Overseas citizens

All other CUKCs became British Overseas citizens.

There are categories of British national other than these three, but these consist of persons who were not CUKCs before 1983 or who were connected with Hong Kong before 1997.

British Overseas citizenship is a residual category of British nationality, in that there is very little provision for the acquisition of British Overseas citizenship after 1983; and with the passage of time the category will become extinct. However, when Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

 reverted to Chinese
People's Republic of China
China , officially the People's Republic of China , is the most populous country in the world, with over 1.3 billion citizens. Located in East Asia, the country covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometres...

 rule in 1997, Hong Kong BDTCs who had not applied for the status of British National (Overseas)
British National (Overseas)
British National , commonly known as BN, is one of the major classes of British nationality under British nationality law. Holders of this nationality are British nationals and Commonwealth citizens, but not British Citizens...

, and who were not already considered Chinese citizens by the PRC government at the time of the handover (such as Indians and other non-Chinese), became British Overseas citizens.

CUKCs before 1983

As British Overseas citizenship is a "mop-up" category for CUKCs who did not acquire British citizenship or BOTC in 1983, there are many ways in which someone may have acquired that status.

These include:
  • persons holding CUKC by connection with a former colony or protectorate who did not acquire that country's citizenship on independence. This applied particularly to some former colonies, such as Kenya
    Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

    , that did not grant citizenship to all CUKCs born or naturalised in that colony.
  • persons who retained CUKC on independence of their colony based on a connection to another colony which subsequently became independent before 1983
  • British subjects born before 1949 who did not acquire citizenship of any Dominion (Australia
    Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

    , Canada
    Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

    , India
    India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

    , Pakistan
    Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

    , Ceylon, South Africa
    South Africa
    The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

    ), Ireland
    Irish Free State
    The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

     or Southern Rhodesia
    Southern Rhodesia
    Southern Rhodesia was the name of the British colony situated north of the Limpopo River and the Union of South Africa. From its independence in 1965 until its extinction in 1980, it was known as Rhodesia...

     when these countries introduced citizenship laws, and were not connected in any way with India or Pakistan.
  • persons registered as CUKCs by descent before 1983 based on birth in a non-Commonwealth
    Commonwealth of Nations
    The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

     country to a CUKC father (there was no limitation on the number of generations provided the child was less than 12 months old)
  • eligible descendants of the Electress Sophia of Hanover; see Sophia Naturalization Act 1705.
  • women who acquired CUKC by marriage after 28 October 1971, unless married before that date and with a husband who had right of abode in the UK
  • minor children who acquired CUKC by registration at the British High Commission in an independent Commonwealth country on or after 28 October 1971
  • persons who were allowed to retain their CUKC statuses even though they acquired the citizenship of a newly independent Commonwealth country (see Penang and Malacca and Cyprus immediately below)

Penang and Malacca

Several early independence acts did not contain any provision for the loss of citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies by citizens of the newly independent states. A notable case is that of the former Settlements (colonies) of Penang
Penang is a state in Malaysia and the name of its constituent island, located on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia by the Strait of Malacca. It is bordered by Kedah in the north and east, and Perak in the south. Penang is the second smallest Malaysian state in area after Perlis, and the...

 and Malacca
Malacca , dubbed The Historic State or Negeri Bersejarah among locals) is the third smallest Malaysian state, after Perlis and Penang. It is located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, on the Straits of Malacca. It borders Negeri Sembilan to the north and the state of Johor to the south...

 in what is now Malaysia. These were combined in 1948 with the nine Malay states (which were protected states rather than colonies) to form the Federation of Malaya
Federation of Malaya
The Federation of Malaya is the name given to a federation of 11 states that existed from 31 January 1948 until 16 September 1963. The Federation became independent on 31 August 1957...

. On independence on 31 August 1957, British protected persons from the Malay states lost their BPP status. However, as a result of representations made by the Straits Chinese, known as the "Queen's Chinese", it was agreed by the Governments of the United Kingdom and Malaya that no provision should be made for the withdrawal of CUKC status from the inhabitants of Penang and Malacca, who would consequently be allowed to remain CUKCs as well as citizens of Malaya.

On 16 September 1963, the colonies of North Borneo
North Borneo
North Borneo was a British protectorate under the sovereign North Borneo Chartered Company from 1882 to 1946. After the war it became a crown colony of Great Britain from 1946 to 1963, known in this time as British North Borneo. It is located on the northeastern end of the island of Borneo. It is...

, Sarawak
Sarawak is one of two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. Known as Bumi Kenyalang , Sarawak is situated on the north-west of the island. It is the largest state in Malaysia followed by Sabah, the second largest state located to the North- East.The administrative capital is Kuching, which...

 and Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

 were joined with Malaya to form Malaysia (Singapore subsequently left Malaysia in 1965). CUKC was withdrawn from those acquiring Malaysian citizenship in 1963, but this did not affect existing citizens of the Federation.

Hence, persons connected with Penang and Malacca prior to 31 August 1957, together with those born before 1983 in legitimate descent to fathers so connected, form the largest group of British Overseas citizens (estimated at over 1 million). Most also hold Malaysian citizenship.


Cyprus , officially the Republic of Cyprus , is a Eurasian island country, member of the European Union, in the Eastern Mediterranean, east of Greece, south of Turkey, west of Syria and north of Egypt. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.The earliest known human activity on the...

 became an independent Commonwealth country on 16 August 1960 (the Sovereign Base Areas
Sovereign Base Areas
The Sovereign Base Areas are military bases located on territory in which the United Kingdom is sovereign, but which are separated from the ordinary British territory....

 of Akrotiri and Dhekelia were formed into a new colony at that point), although a nationality law was not enacted until 16 February 1961.

Persons resident in any area of the Commonwealth (excluding Cyprus) immediately before 16 August 1960 retained CUKC even if they acquired Cypriot citizenship.

After 1983

CUKCs who did not qualify to become British Citizens or British Dependent Territories Citizens (later named British Overseas Territories Citizens) became British Overseas Citizens on 1 Jan 1983 according to the British Nationality Act of 1981. While the BOC category was intended to be a residual category of British Nationality that will disappear when all current holders die, it is still possible to acquire BOC status after 1983:

Hong Kong

British Dependent Territories Citizens connected to Hong Kong who did not register as British National (Overseas) and did not have another citizenship (this therefore excludes those that the People's Republic of China considers to be citizens) became British Overseas Citizens on 1 July 1997.

Descendants of BOCs with other nationality

Descendants of British Overseas Citizens who do not qualify for another other nationality may be allowed to register as British Overseas Citizens.

Acquisition of British citizenship in 1983

A CUKC who acquired right of abode before 1983 would have become a British citizen on 1 January 1983, instead of a British Overseas citizen. Most commonly this was through:
  • descent from a United Kingdom & Islands born or naturalised parent or grandparent (either paternal or maternal)
  • residence in the United Kingdom & Islands for five years before 1983 together with acquisition of settled status
  • if a woman, marriage to a man who possessed right of abode.

See History of British nationality law
History of British nationality law
- Early English and British nationality law :British nationality law has its origins in medieval England. There has always been a distinction in English law between the subjects of the monarch and aliens: the monarch's subjects owed him allegiance, and included those born in his dominions and...

Acquisition of British Overseas citizenship under the 1981 Act

Save for some transitional arrangements made under the 1981 Act (which expired on 31 December 1987) it is normally only possible for a person to acquire British Overseas citizenship if otherwise stateless.

A British Overseas citizen parent does not in itself give rise to a claim to British Overseas citizenship, or any other form of British nationality. This applies whether one is born in the UK or elsewhere.

Access to British citizenship

British Overseas citizens may normally become British citizens through one of the following routes:

Residence in the United Kingdom

  • After 5 years residence in the United Kingdom, and holding Indefinite Leave to Remain
    Indefinite leave to remain
    Indefinite leave to remain is an immigration status granted to a person who does not hold right of abode in the United Kingdom , but who has been admitted to the UK without any time limit on his or her stay and who is free to take up employment or study, without restriction...

     (ILR) or its equivalent for at least 12 months, a BOC may apply for registration as a British citizen under section 4 of the British Nationality Act 1981.*
  • If married to a British citizen, it is possible to apply for naturalisation as a British citizen after 3 years residence in the United Kingdom provided ILR is held on the day of application.

Both of these options confer British citizenship otherwise than by descent and hence children born subsequently outside the United Kingdom will normally have access to British citizenship.

Holding no other nationality

The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002
Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002
The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It received Royal Assent on 7 November 2002....

 granted British Overseas Citizens, British Subjects and British Protected Persons the right to register as British citizens if they have no other citizenship or nationality and have not after 4 July 2002 renounced, voluntarily relinquished or lost through action or inaction any citizenship or nationality. Previously such persons would have not had the right of abode in any country, and would have thus been de facto stateless. Despite strong resistance from Senior Officials at the Home Office, the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett
David Blunkett
David Blunkett is a British Labour Party politician and the Member of Parliament for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, having represented Sheffield Brightside from 1987 to 2010...

, said on 3 July 2002 that this would "right a historic wrong" which had left stateless tens of thousands of Asian people who had worked closely with British colonial administrations (see UK to right 'immigration wrong', BBC 5 July 2002). The Government of India
Government of India
The Government of India, officially known as the Union Government, and also known as the Central Government, was established by the Constitution of India, and is the governing authority of the union of 28 states and seven union territories, collectively called the Republic of India...

 has also issued clarifications in respect of people with these citizenships to assist with consideration of applications under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.
  • Holding permanent residence
    Permanent residence
    Permanent residence may refer to:* Permanent Residence * Permanent residence * Permanent residency* Permanent resident...

     in another country does not in itself cause a bar to registration, provided the nationality of that country is not acquired before application for British citizenship is granted (and British citizenship acquired through taking an Oath and Pledge). Subsequent acquisition of another citizenship or nationality does not cause loss of British citizenship.
  • Registration under this section confers British citizenship by descent and hence those BOCs permanently resident in the United Kingdom should normally consider section 4 registration or naturalisation instead.

Future of British Overseas citizenship

The 2002 Act resolved the issue of de facto statelessness for most BOCs; however, those who lost their other nationalities after 4 July 2002 are not eligible. This means that de-facto statelessness can still be an issue for BOCs in situations like the following:
  • A BOC acquires a BOC passport after 4 July 2002, and the country of his other nationality (e.g. Malaysia) considers the acquisition of a foreign passport to mean an automatic relinquishment of that country's citizenship.

  • A BOC holds citizenship of a country (e.g. Kenya
    Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

    ) that permits dual citizenship only for minors, and that requires such minors to renounce all other nationalities at the age of majority. (For example, those with BOC and Kenyan citizenship as minors will automatically lose their Kenyan citizenship at age 21 if they do not renounce their British Nationality then.) Such BOCs will be de-facto stateless if they reach the age of majority after 4 July 2002 as they cannot benefit from the 2002 Act.

Of all the six classes of British nationality, only the status of British citizen carries with it the right of abode somewhere (in this case the UK). However, in practice, British Overseas Territories Citizen
British Overseas Territories citizen
The status of British Overseas Territories citizen relates to persons holding British nationality by virtue of a connection with a British Overseas Territory.-British Nationality Act 1981:...

s (except those associated with the Sovereign bases in Cyprus) were granted full British citizenship in 2002, British Nationals (Overseas)
British National (Overseas)
British National , commonly known as BN, is one of the major classes of British nationality under British nationality law. Holders of this nationality are British nationals and Commonwealth citizens, but not British Citizens...

 have right of abode in Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

, British subjects and British Protected Persons
British protected person
A British protected person is a member of class of certain persons under the British Nationality Act 1981 associated with former protected states, protectorates, mandated and trust territories under British control...

 lose their statuses upon acquisition of another nationality (except British subjects connected the Republic of Ireland, who have the right to live and work in the UK anyway because of EU treaties) and so should be eligible for registration as British Citizens under the 2002 Act.

This makes British Overseas Citizens unique in that their nationality status is not associated with the right of residence anywhere in the world.

In 2007-2008, Lord Goldsmith suggested in his Citizenship Review that the category of British Overseas Citizenship (along with other residual classes of British Nationality) be abolished, and existing BOCs be given a window to register as British Citizens. However, this suggestion was never made into law.

Loss of British Overseas citizenship

Acquisition of another country's citizenship does not cause loss of British Overseas citizenship. However if an entitlement to registration as a British citizen under section 4B is held it will be lost if the person acquires another nationality before becoming a British citizen.

British Overseas citizens may be deprived of British Overseas citizenship on terms similar to those applicable to British citizens.

A British Overseas citizen may renounce British Overseas citizenship on the same basis as a British citizen. However there is no provision to resume British Overseas citizenship after renunciation.

Benefits of British Overseas citizenship

Because the status of British Overseas Citizen is not associated with the right to live or work anywhere in the world, it is often considered a useless citizenship (unless the holder has no other nationality, in which case he or she may register as a British Citizen). However, there are some minor benefits to having British Overseas Citizenship.

Some of these rights are common to all Commonwealth citizens (i.e. British Overseas Citizens with another form of Commonwealth citizenship already have these rights):
  • Right to vote in the UK if resident in the UK.

Other rights are specific only to British Overseas Citizens but not to commonwealth citizens (holders of some other classes of British nationality may also qualify for some of these rights):
  • Acquiring British Citizenship is simpler and cheaper (registration instead of naturalization), although residency requirements are the same as for other nationalities.
  • Indefinite Leave to Remain is valid for life, regardless of time spent outside of United Kingdom.
  • Ability to hold certain jobs and offices in the UK that are restricted to British Nationals (although positions restricted to British Citizens remain off-limits).
  • Ability to benefit from the Youth Mobility Scheme with no quotas.
  • Ability to claim personal exemptions on UK income if considered non-resident for UK tax purposes. (Prior to 6 Apr 2010 this was available to all Commonwealth Citizens).
  • Consular protection from the UK government if outside the UK and travelling on a British passport.
  • Visa-free access to the UK for visits up to 6 months, if travelling on a BOC passport. (Many other nationalities, commonwealth and non-commonwealth, also have this benefit.)

Some rights that British Overseas Citizens used to have are no longer effective:
  • Before 2002, British Overseas Citizens with work permits or entering as persons of independent means were given Indefinite Leave to Enter/Remain immediately.

See also