Commonwealth citizen

Commonwealth citizen

A Commonwealth citizen, which replaces the former category of British subject, is generally a person who is a national of any country within the Commonwealth of Nations.

In British nationality law, a Commonwealth citizen is a person who is either a British citizen, British Overseas Territories citizen, British Overseas citizen, British subject, British National (Overseas) or a national of a country listed in Schedule 3 of the British Nationality Act 1981. Note that British protected persons are not Commonwealth citizens. The list of countries in Schedule 3 at any time may not accurately reflect the countries actually within the Commonwealth at that time. For example, when Fiji left the Commonwealth in 1987 and 1990, its name was not removed from Schedule 3. This may have happened because the British Government at the time wished to avoid the consequences of Fijian citizens in the United Kingdom suddenly losing the benefits of Commonwealth citizenship.

Most other Commonwealth countries have provisions within their own law defining who is and who is not a Commonwealth citizen. Each country is free to determine what special rights, if any, are accorded to non-nationals who are Commonwealth citizens. In general, citizens of the Republic of Ireland and British protected persons, although not Commonwealth citizens, are accorded the same rights and privileges as Commonwealth citizens.


Rights and disabilities in the United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, as in many other Commonwealth countries, Commonwealth citizens (together with Irish citizens and British protected persons) are in law considered not to be "foreign" or "aliens", although British protected persons do not have all the civic rights that are enjoyed by Commonwealth and Irish citizens. Commonwealth and Irish citizens enjoy the same civic rights as British citizens, namely:

  • the right, unless otherwise disqualified (e.g. imprisoned), to vote in all elections (i.e., parliamentary, local and European [1] elections) as long as they have registered to vote (they must possess valid leave to enter/remain or not require such leave on the date of their electoral registration application[2])
  • the right, unless otherwise disqualified, to stand for election to the British House of Commons as long as they possess indefinite leave to remain or do not require leave under the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77) to enter or remain in the UK [3]
  • the right, if a qualifying peer or bishop, to sit in the House of Lords
  • eligibility to hold public office (e.g., as a judge, magistrate, minister, police constable, member of the armed forces, etc.)

The disabilities of Commonwealth citizens who are not British citizens are few, but in the case of immigration control, very important. Commonwealth citizens (including British nationals who are not British citizens) who do not have the right of abode are subject to immigration control, including control on the right to work and carry out business. In addition, Commonwealth citizens who are not British citizens may not be engaged in certain sensitive occupations, e.g., in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in the intelligence services, and some positions within the armed forces.

Nevertheless, under the United Kingdom's immigration arrangements Commonwealth citizens enjoy certain advantages:

  • Commonwealth citizens born before 1 January 1983 may by virtue of having a parent born in the United Kingdom and Islands have the right of abode therein – such persons are exempt from all immigration control;
  • Commonwealth citizens with a grandparent born in the United Kingdom and Islands may be admitted for up to five years on this basis, and thereafter be granted indefinite leave to remain;
  • Commonwealth citizens between the ages of 18 and 30 were eligible to be admitted for a "working holiday" for up to two years. This has since been replaced with the more restrictive Youth Mobility Scheme[4] (now open only to youth of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Monaco);
  • Commonwealth citizens, unlike other non-European Economic Area nationals, may not be required to register with the police while living in the United Kingdom.

Applicable countries

The following are "countries whose citizens are Commonwealth citizens" under Schedule 3 of the British Nationality Act 1981,[5] although the list as laid out in the Act may not reflect the actual current membership in the Commonwealth.

Although  Rwanda does not appear in Schedule 3 of the Act, for electoral purposes, its citizens are considered to be Commonwealth citizens.[6] Also, for electoral purposes, the whole of Cyprus is considered to be a Commonwealth country; hence, anyone who holds a Cypriot passport and/or a Northern Cypriot passport is considered to be a Commonwealth citizen (but not a person who is solely a Turkish citizen without any form of Cypriot nationality).[7]

Rights and privileges throughout the Commonwealth

Although the rights and privileges (if any) for non-national Commonwealth citizens differ from country to country, a number of Commonwealth countries grant them more privileges than 'aliens' (i.e. non-Commonwealth foreign nationals), but not the full privileges enjoyed by the country's own nationals.

Right to vote

The following Commonwealth countries allow citizens from other Commonwealth countries to vote:

  •  Antigua and Barbuda. The Representation of the People (Amendment) Act (2002) permits Commonwealth citizens who have lived in Antigua and Barbuda for at least 3 years to register to vote in the constituency where they have resided for at least 1 month.
  •  Australia. British subjects and Commonwealth citizens (including Irish citizens but not including South African citizens) can vote as long as they were on the federal electoral roll on 25 January 1984. If they leave Australia and their enrolment has lapsed, they are still eligible to re-enrol upon their return to Australia.[8]
  •  Belize. Non-Belizean Commonwealth citizens who are either domiciled or who have lived for the past 12 months in Belize are eligible to register to vote.[9]
  •  Bermuda. Non-Bermudian Commonwealth citizens who were registered to vote on 1 May 1976 are eligible to vote.[10]
  •  Cayman Islands. Commonwealth citizens who are not British Overseas Territories Citizens by virtue of their connection to the Islands can still vote if on 31 January 1988 they were resident and on the electoral roll in the Islands, and either had a parent born on the Islands or was ordinarily resident in the Islands for 7 out of the 9 years preceding registration.[11]
  •  Dominica. Commonwealth citizens who have lived in Grenada for 12 months are eligible to vote.[12]
  •  Grenada.
  •  Guyana. By virtue of Article 159 of the Constitution, Commonwealth citizens aged 18 or over who are "domiciled and resident" in Guyana are eligible to vote.[13]
  •  Jamaica. Non-Jamaican Commonwealth citizens can register to vote in all elections as long as they are ordinarily resident in Jamaica.[14]
  •  Malawi. By virtue of Section 77(2)(a) of the Constitution, all foreign nationals - including Commonwealth citizens - who have lived in Malawi for 7 years can register to vote.[15]
  •  Mauritius. By virtue of Section 42(1) of the Constitution, a Commonwealth citizen aged 18 or over on the 15th of August in the year of registration, and who has either lived in Mauritius for at least two years prior to the 1st of January in the year of registration or who is domiciled in Mauritius on the 1st of January in the year of registration may vote.[16]
  •  New Zealand. All foreign nationals – including Commonwealth citizens – who are permanent residents (i.e. in possession of an indefinite visa) are obliged to register to vote at the address where to have lived for at least one month, and can continue to vote in New Zealand elections if abroad as long as they have been to New Zealand in the past year.[17]
  •  Saint Kitts and Nevis.
  •  Saint Lucia. Commonwealth citizens aged 18 or over who have lived in Saint Lucia for 7 years and have lived in their constituency for at least 2 months is eligible to register to vote.[18]
  •  Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
  •  Trinidad and Tobago. Commonwealth citizens aged 15 or over who have lived for at least one year in Trinidad and Tobago are eligible to vote.[19]

Immigration benefits

Many Commonwealth countries offer visa-free entry for short visits made by Commonwealth citizens from countries with a relatively high standard of living. Many Commonwealth countries continue to allow Commonwealth citizens from other countries to become nationals/local citizens by registration rather than naturalisation, upon preferential terms, e.g. with a shorter required period of residency, although this practice has been discontinued in some countries such as New Zealand and Malta.

Other rights

Consular assistance

In foreign (i.e. non-Commonwealth) countries, the British embassy or consulate is traditionally responsible for Commonwealth citizens whose governments are not represented in the country concerned. A few Commonwealth governments have made alternative arrangements to share the burden, such as the Canada-Australia Consular Services Sharing Agreement,[20] hence for Canadian and Australian citizens, the British embassy or consulate only provides assistance if neither country is represented. In return, there are a few Australian consulates that are responsible for British nationals because there is no British consulate there. A few Commonwealth governments, namely Singapore and Tanzania, have opted not to receive consular assistance from the United Kingdom.

In other Commonwealth countries, United Kingdom high commissions accept no responsibility for unrepresented Commonwealth citizens, who should look to the host Commonwealth government for quasi-consular assistance. Canadian and Australian citizens are still able to seek consular assistance from each other's high commissions.

Commonwealth citizen travel documents

Commonwealth citizens outside the UK are eligible to apply for a British emergency travel document if they need to travel urgently and their passport has been lost/stolen/expired (as long as the FCO has cleared this with the government of the Commonwealth citizen's home country).[21]

When a British embassy or consulate in a foreign country is required to provide a replacement passport to a Commonwealth citizen whose government is unrepresented in that country, it will issue a British passport with the nationality of the holder marked as "Commonwealth citizen".[22]

Some Commonwealth governments issue travel documents to Commonwealth citizens resident in their countries who are unable to obtain national passports.[23] For example, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issues Documents of Identity (DOI) for compassionate reasons to Commonwealth citizens resident in Australia who are unable to obbtain a valid travel document for the country or countries of which he/she has nationality when he/she needs to travel urgently.[24]

See also


  1. ^ "Judgments of the Court in Cases C-145/04 and C-300/04 – Kingdom of Spain v United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" (PDF). The Court of Justice of the European Communities. September 12, 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-18. 
  2. ^ Representation of the People Act 1983, Section 4(6)
  3. ^ Electoral Administration Act 2006, Section 18
  4. ^ UK Border Agency | Youth mobility scheme
  5. ^ Schedule 3 : Countries whose citizens are Commonwealth citizens, British Nationality Act 1981 (c. 61), Office of Public Sector Information.
  6. ^ About my vote: Who can register to vote?
  7. ^ "Part B - Entitlement to register (Section 6.28)" (PDF). March 2010. Retrieved 2011-04-24. 
  8. ^ Australian Electoral Commission: British Subjects Eligibility
  9. ^ Elections and Boundaries Department of the Government of Belize: Who is eligible to vote?
  10. ^ Bermuda Parliamentary Registry: Voter Eligibility
  11. ^ Cayman Islands Elections Office: Qualifications and Disqualifications of an Elector
  12. ^ Government of the Commonwealth of Dominica Electoral Office: Who Can Register to Vote?
  13. ^ Guyana Elections Commission: Elections in Guyana
  14. ^ Representation of the People Act 1944, Sections 5(2)(a) and 111(3)(b)
  15. ^ Malawi Constitution Section 77
  16. ^ Electoral Commissioner's Office: Registration
  17. ^ Elections New Zealand: Who can enrol?
  18. ^ Saint Lucia Electoral Department: Frequently Asked Questions
  19. ^ Trinidad and Tobago Elections and Boundaries Commission: Services provided
  20. ^ Canada-Australia Consular Services Sharing Agreement, Government of Canada,, retrieved 2007-12-14 
  21. ^ Foreign & Commonwealth Office: The new UK Emergency Passport
  22. ^ "Immigration Directorates' Instructions", Chapter 22 – Passports and Travel Documents, UK Home Office,, retrieved 2008-03-28 
  23. ^ Entry Clearance Guidance, UK Government, September 26, 2007,, retrieved 2007-12-14 
  24. ^ [1]

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