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  • Writer's pictureEmma Harris

Malaysian British Overseas Citizens: Part 1 - Introduction

Updated: May 29, 2020

The states of Penang and Malacca were among those, prior to the formation of Malaysia, which had been colonised by the British. Residents of those parts of Malaysia had therefore been British Subjects and became Citizens of the UK and Commonwealth ("CUKCs") when the British Nationality Act 1948 came into force. Unusually for this particular territory, upon the constitution of Malaysia as an independent country in 1959, it was agreed that residents of those parts of Malaysia which had been former British colonies would gain Malaysian Citizenship and also retain their CUKC status effectively as dual-nationals.

Those who remained dual nationals or were born dual-nationals between 1948 and 1983 but stayed living in Malaysia would have been unlikely, in the absence of any further connection with the UK, to continue to have a right of abode in the UK as immigration control in the UK became more and more restrictive in the 1960s and 70s. Upon the coming into force of the British Nationality Act 1981, such individuals would have become dual Malaysian/BOCs.

There were about 200,000 people (of whom about 130,000 were connected with Malaysia) who, for various reasons, never obtained the nationality of any other country. They had been CUKCs without a right of abode in the UK and that group fell through the cracks of the respective British and Commonwealth country’s nationality laws. This group became BOCs but had no other nationality. This group had no right of abode in the UK and no right of abode in any other country in the world. They were, however, considered by the world to have a British nationality.

Legal Developments

It wasn’t until 2002 that the UK accepted responsibility for this group and sought to remedy the gap in the law. Section 4B was inserted into the British Nationality Act 1981 (by the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002) which gave a person with only BOC status an entitlement to apply for full British Citizenship. This entitlement was provisional upon a person not having “renounced, voluntarily relinquished or lost through action or inaction any citizenship or nationality.”

For the most part this did therefore assist the 200,000 people with only BOC status because they could now apply for full British Citizenship and thereby obtain a right of abode in the UK.

Ongoing Problem

Since 2002, hundreds[1] of Malaysian BOCs, who came to the UK using their Malaysian passports with valid visas, have been poorly advised by legal representatives in the UK and have gone on to voluntarily renounce their Malaysian Citizenship in the mistaken or misguided belief that in doing so they would become BOCs who would be entitled under section 4B of the 1981 Act to apply for full British Citizenship.

Such individuals fell foul of the exclusion under section 4B of the 1981 Act, which prevented those who had renounced or voluntarily relinquished their Malaysian Citizenship from qualifying for full British Citizenship, and since their applications were refused by the UK Home Office, many of them have remained unable to resolve their status here in the UK ever since.

The Malaysian government’s Home Minister has spoken openly of those who have voluntarily renounced their Malaysian Citizenship as having “stabbed the country in the back”[2] and has publicly said that such individuals would not automatically be permitted to reacquire their Malaysian Citizenship. Such individuals can only apply to return to Malaysia with a Resident’s Pass which provides them with a a short period of leave which would need to be renewed and there would be no automatic entitlement or shortcut to regaining permanent residence or Citizenship of Malaysia.

The Malaysian High Commission in the UK has become anecdotally notorious for its refusal to assist these people here in the UK, by declining to process their applications for Malaysian Citizenship and by declining to provide them with any documentary evidence of attendance at the High Commission which could then be submitted with an application to the UK Home Office for a visa to remain here.


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