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|Commonwealth of Nations|
|Commonwealth Nationality Laws|
|Issues, Rights and Visas|
|Relevant Acts of Parliaments|
In general, a Commonwealth citizen is a person who has that status under British nationality law and may enjoy some privileges in the United Kingdom and less commonly, other Commonwealth countries. Each country can determine what special rights, if any, are accorded to non-nationals who are Commonwealth citizens. The term is largely confined to British nationality law and is not used in many other Commonwealth countries such as Australia.
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 (see below). Under the law, 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.
In the United Kingdom, 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. This reasoning has not carried over to other Commonwealth countries – for example, in the High Court of Australia case of Sue v Hill, other Commonwealth countries were held to be foreign powers, while in Nolan v Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the nationals of other Commonwealth realms were held to be 'aliens'. In the United Kingdom, Commonwealth and Irish citizens enjoy the same civic rights as British citizens, namely:
- the right to vote in all elections (i.e., parliamentary, local, referendum and European 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).
- 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 to enter or remain in the UK.
- 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 (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 under UK nationality law
Countries whose citizens are Commonwealth citizens under Schedule 3 of the British Nationality Act 1981, although the list may not reflect the actual current membership in the Commonwealth, are as follows:
1 – Not a member state of the Commonwealth
For electoral purposes, the whole of Cyprus is considered to be a Commonwealth country; hence, anyone who holds a Cypriot passport 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).
The Gambia left the Commonwealth on 3 October 2013 and was removed from the schedule on 12 November 2015 by virtue of The British Nationality (The Gambia) Order 2015. The new Gambian government elected in 2017 has stated that it will apply to re-join.
Privileges of Commonwealth citizens in other countries
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. Australia has abolished the status of British subject with effect from 26 January 1984. However, British subjects and Commonwealth citizens (excluding South African citizens) and Irish citizens who were on the federal electoral roll on 25 January 1984 can vote. If they leave Australia and their enrolment has lapsed, they are still eligible to re-enrol upon their return to Australia.
- Barbados By virtue of the Constitution of Barbados under Sec. 41A. of CAP. 5, and the Representation of the People's Act, CAP. 12, Section 7; Commonwealth citizens are given the right to vote and stand for election to the Parliament of Barbados under proscribed stipulations.
- 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.
- Grenada. Commonwealth citizens who have lived in Grenada for 12 consecutive months are eligible to vote.
- 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.
- Jamaica. Non-Jamaican Commonwealth citizens can register to vote in all elections as long as they are ordinarily resident in Jamaica.
- 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.
- Mauritius. By virtue of Section 42(1) of the Constitution, a Commonwealth citizen aged 18 or over on 15 August in the year of registration, and who has either lived in Mauritius for at least two years prior to 1 January in the year of registration or who is domiciled in Mauritius on 1 January in the year of registration may vote.
- 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 they 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.
- 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.
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Commonwealth citizens aged 18 or over who have lived in St Vincent and the Grenadines for at least 12 months and in their constituency for at least 6 months are eligible to vote in that constituency.
- Trinidad and Tobago. Commonwealth citizens aged 18 or over who have lived for at least one year in Trinidad and Tobago are eligible to vote.
The following Overseas Territories of the United Kingdom allow citizens from Commonwealth countries to vote:
- Bermuda. Non-Bermudian Commonwealth citizens who were registered to vote on 1 May 1976 are eligible to vote.
- Cayman Islands. The Cayman Islands is not a member of the Commonwealth as it is a British Overseas Territory and not a sovereign state. Commonwealth citizens who are not British Overseas Territories Citizens by virtue of their connection to the Cayman 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 in the Cayman Islands or was ordinarily resident in the Cayman Islands for 7 out of the 9 years preceding registration.
Some Commonwealth countries offer visa-free entry for short visits made by Commonwealth citizens. Some 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.
In March 2013, it was announced by Nigeria's Foreign Affairs Minister, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, that a visa free regime is being contemplated by Commonwealth countries for its members to strengthen trade and investment among member nations. As a prelude to accomplishing this, the council of ministers is to present a proposal for the exemption of holders of official and diplomatic passports from visa requirements at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, CHOGOM, scheduled to hold in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The announcement came in the wake of a meeting between Ashiru and the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma, in Abuja. At the meeting Ashiru and Sharma discussed proposals to make the Commonwealth more relevant to its citizens across the globe including ways the Commonwealth could ease free movement across member countries, strengthen institutions, enhance education, create job opportunities, facilitate development and enhance the living standard of the citizens across the countries of the Commonwealth.
Ashiru said, "We also discussed the issue of free movement to promote people to people contact within the Commonwealth. In the past, it used to be that holders of Commonwealth passports could travel within the Commonwealth countries easily without having to go and queue for visas. We are now thinking for ways to ensure that we bring back this old tradition of the Commonwealth. Already, the council of ministers have recommended for approval at the next CHOGOM meeting in Colombo the exemption of holders of official and diplomatic passports within the Commonwealth from the requirement of a visa if they are travelling within the Commonwealth."
- The right to work in any position (including the civil service) in some instances, except for certain specific positions (e.g. defence, Governor-General or President, Prime Minister).
- Eligibility to serve in the armed forces of certain countries.
- Eligibility for the Commonwealth Scholarship.
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, 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. Some Commonwealth governments, such as Singapore and Tanzania, have opted not to receive consular assistance from the United Kingdom.
In other Commonwealth countries, British 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. Additionally, Canadian citizens can seek consular assistance at any British embassy or high commission where Canada is not represented.
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).
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".
Some Commonwealth governments issue travel documents to Commonwealth citizens resident in their countries who are unable to obtain national passports. For example, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issues Documents of Identity (DOI) for compassionate reasons to Commonwealth citizens resident in Australia who are unable to obtain a valid travel document for the country or countries of which he/she has nationality when he/she needs to travel urgently.
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Philip 'Jimmy' Serrao, who was EBC chairman for 15 years, said the provision in Barbados' laws that allowed Commonwealth citizens to vote in general elections after residing here for three years ought to be changed. What's more, Serrao was firm in his belief that only Barbadian citizens should have the right to elect representatives to govern this country. Serrao, a Queen's Counsel, who chaired the EBC from 1995 to 2010, told the SUNDAY SUN that citizens of Barbados of the Commonwealth who have resided in Barbados for at least three years, were over the age of 18 and resided in the constituency for three months, could influence who made it into the House of Assembly.
- Department, Belize Elections & Boundaries. "Elections FAQs - Facts About Voter Registration - Who is eligible to Register to Vote? : Elections and Boundaries Department - Belize".
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