|Commonwealth of Nations (History)|
|Issues, rights, and visas|
A Commonwealth citizen is a national or citizen of any of the 54 member states of the Commonwealth of Nations. In some member countries, citizens from other Commonwealth states are entitled to certain rights, including eligibility to vote in elections and serve in government positions. The status is most significant in the United Kingdom, and carries little or no privileges in many other Commonwealth countries.
Commonwealth citizenship was created out of a gradual transition from an earlier form of British nationality. Before 1949, all citizens of the British Empire were British subjects and owed allegiance to the Crown. Although the Dominions (Australia, Canada, Ireland, Newfoundland, New Zealand, and South Africa) created their own nationality laws following the First World War, they mutually maintained British subjecthood as a common nationality with the United Kingdom and its colonies. However, divergence in Dominion legislation and growing assertions of independence from London culminated in the creation of Canadian citizenship in 1946 and its separation from British subject status. Combined with the impending independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, nationality law reform was necessary at that point.
The British Nationality Act 1948 redefined British subject as any citizen of the United Kingdom, its colonies, or other Commonwealth countries. Commonwealth citizen was also defined in this Act to have the same meaning. This change in naming indicated a shift in the base theory of British nationality, that allegiance to the Crown was no longer a requirement to hold British subject status. The change was also necessary to retain a number of newly independent countries that wished to become republics rather than retain the monarch as head of state. The common status of Commonwealth citizenship would instead be maintained voluntarily by the various members of the Commonwealth.
At first, all Commonwealth citizens held the automatic right to settle in the United Kingdom. This was first restricted by Parliament with the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962, which imposed immigration controls on subjects originating from outside the British Islands. The Immigration Act 1971 relaxed controls on patrials, those whose parents or grandparents were born in the United Kingdom, and gave effective preferential treatment to Commonwealth citizens from white-majority countries.
Outside of the United Kingdom, Commonwealth citizens also initially retained in some member states eligibility to vote in elections, for preferred paths to citizenship, and for welfare benefits. These privileges were removed on independence in most countries but retained in some. British subjects/Commonwealth citizens were eligible to vote in New Zealand until 1975, Canada on the federal level until 1975 (not fully phased out in provinces until 2006), and Australia until 1984 (though subjects on the electoral roll in that year are still eligible).
By the 1980s, most colonies of the British Empire had become independent. Parliament updated nationality law to reflect the more modest geographical boundaries of the United Kingdom and its remaining territories. The British Nationality Act 1981 redefined British subject to no longer also mean Commonwealth citizen. That term now only refers to a limited group of people connected with Ireland and British India born before 1949.
Commonwealth citizenship is acquired by virtue of holding citizenship of any Commonwealth member state. An individual would automatically lose the status if that person is no longer a citizen of any Commonwealth country.
In British law, Commonwealth citizenship is dependent on a list of countries in Schedule 3 of the British Nationality Act 1981. This list is not always the same as the current composition of member states. For example, when the Maldives left the Commonwealth in 2016, it was not removed from that list until the following year. Similarly, although Zimbabwe has not been a part of the Commonwealth since 2003, Zimbabwean citizens retain Commonwealth citizenship because the country remains on Schedule 3.
Most classes of British nationals other than British citizens are considered Commonwealth citizens. British Overseas Territories citizens, British Overseas citizens, British subjects, and British Nationals (Overseas) all have this additional status. However, British protected persons do not. Furthermore, non-citizen nationals of other Commonwealth countries (such as Overseas Citizens of India) are not considered Commonwealth citizens in British law.
Many Commonwealth countries do not treat citizens from other member states as foreign nationals. The rights that Commonwealth citizens are entitled to differ depending on country. Each member state has separate legislation specifying what, if any, rights they are afforded.
Commonwealth citizens may register to vote after fulfilling residence requirements in 15 countries and all three Crown dependencies of the United Kingdom. In Australia, Bermuda, and the Cayman Islands, they no longer have the right to register as electors, but voters who were already registered before that right was ended may continue to participate in elections. In Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the United Kingdom, Commonwealth citizens are also eligible to serve in one or both houses of the national legislature.
All Commonwealth citizens may receive consular assistance from British embassies and consulates in foreign non-Commonwealth nations where their home countries have not established diplomatic or consular posts. They are eligible to apply for British emergency passports, if their travel documents have been lost or stolen and permission has been given by their national governments. In some member states, they may also be issued non-passport travel documents when they are unable to present their national passports. For example, Australia issues Documents of Identity to resident Commonwealth citizens who are unable to obtain valid travel documents from their countries of origin and must travel urgently.
When residing in the United Kingdom, Commonwealth citizens are generally exempt from registering with local police, may be employed in non-reserved Civil Service posts, and are eligible to enlist in the British Armed Forces.
The following jurisdictions allow citizens of other Commonwealth countries to vote:
Access to voting in these countries is open to all resident foreign nationals and not exclusive to Commonwealth citizens: