British Overseas citizen: Wikis


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Ireland Act 1949
British Nationality Act 1981
Falkland Islands (1983)
Overseas Territories Act 2002
Canadian Citizenship Act 1946

In British nationality law, 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 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 in the United Kingdom and Islands (i.e. the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) 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 became British Dependent Territories citizens (BDTCs), now renamed British Overseas Territories citizens (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 reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, Hong Kong BDTCs who had not applied for the status of British National (Overseas), 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.

Sources of 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, 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, Canada, India, Pakistan, Ceylon, South Africa), Ireland or Southern 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 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

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 and Malacca 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. 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.[1]

On 16 September 1963, the colonies of North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore 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 became an independent Commonwealth country on 16 August 1960 (the Sovereign Base Areas 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.

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

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 (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 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, 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 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 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.

This Act resolved the issue of de-facto statelessness for most BOCs; however, anyone who lost his/her other nationalities after 4 July 2002 are not eligible. This includes situtations like BOCs who used to hold a nationality from a country (eg Malaysia) that considers the acquisition of a BOC passport to mean an automatic relinquishment of that country's citizenship, as well as minors who held British Overseas Citizenship and another citizenship (eg Kenya) which was automatically lost at majority because the holder was required to renounce his/her British Overseas Citizenship to keep the other citizenship.

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 Citizens (except those associated with the Sovereign bases in Cyprus) were granted full British citizenship in 2002, British Nationals (Overseas) have right of abode in Hong Kong, British subjects and British Protected Persons 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 they their nationality status is not associated with the right of residence anywhere in the world.

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.


  1. ^ Hansard, HC Deb 13 November 1972. vol. 846, cc. 24-5W

See also


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