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UK Citizenship vs UK Nationalities – Know Your Status
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UK Citizenship vs UK Nationalities – Know Your Status

For most legal jurisdictions, the terms ‘nationality’ and ‘citizenship’ are effectively interchangeable, however, due to the complexity of the UK’s nationality laws, this is not the case. Nationality refers to the status of a person as belonging to a state, whereas citizenship refers to the holding of a bundle of civic rights, generally including the right to live and work in the territory of the state concerned. 

The UK currently has 6 nationalities (commonly recognised abbreviations follow):

  • British citizen (BC)
  • British overseas territories citizen (BOTC)
  • British National (Overseas) (BN(O))
  • British protected person (BPP)
  • British subject
  • British Overseas citizen (BOC)
Understanding British National (Overseas) nationality

All British nationals are eligible to be issued with UK passports. However, only British citizens have the automatic right to live and work in the UK. It is extremely important for individuals relocating to the UK to fully understand the rights they have under their passport. In this blog, we will discuss BN(O) and use Hong Kong as an example. 

Hong Kong was previously a British colony and until 1997, those born in Hong Kong or whose father was born in Hong Kong would have a form of UK nationality known as ‘British Dependent Territories citizenship’.

Between 1st July 1987 and 30th June 1997, a scheme was administered whereby any British Dependent Territories citizen with a connection to Hong Kong could apply to acquire the new status of BN(O).  There was no separate registration process; the person simply applied for a passport. It is extremely important to note that BN(O) status does not allow the holder to live and work in the UK, and does not entitle the holder to consular assistance within the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. A BN(O) would have been issued a UK passport issued since 1st July 1987 describing the holder as "British National (Overseas)".

Very few Hong Kong residents became BN(O) when Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997 – estimates are that of the 3 million BDTCs in Hong Kong, approximately 10,000 became BN(O)s.  The registration scheme is now closed.

Employers also need to pay close attention to the status of their employee's passport as the passports covering the six British nationalities look almost identical to the British passport held by British citizens, therefore it is crucial to ensure that employees have full right to work in the UK before they commence employment to avoid severe penalties. HNWI also need to ensure that they do not overstay their 185 days per year as a visitor using the BN(O) passport.  Breach of this criterion could lead to a 10-year re-entry ban.

If you would like to understand more about the different British nationalities and their respective rights in the UK, please contact me at [email protected] or our solicitor Alexander Finch at [email protected]