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Many people, including some Russians and Russian-speakers, have come to the conclusion that to become British is an excellent ambition. There are several often-stated reasons for this: that the quality of life in the UK is good; that the education system is good; that the traditions are good; that the legal system is good; that we have a beautiful royal family, and so on. But these are clichés. There is surely additionally something deep, mysterious and just “different” about being British.
It is something very difficult to pinpoint, and we have searched high and low for something that defines or explains it. At last we have come up with something that, even if it does not fully achieve this, does at least provide some sort of useful flavour.
In a remarkable little book called “The How To Be British Collection” (in which we have no financial interest) the author describes a “typical” British family who decide to prioritise the pet cats over the children because they discover that the cats are allergic to the children.
This might sound rather silly – in fact, it is – but some readers may recognise at least a grain of truth.
There is, however, apart from all this, something that is definitely and solidly useful about being a British citizen: the entitlement to a British passport.
The British passport was traditionally considered one of the very best in the world in terms of the number of countries and territories it allows the holder to enter without a visa.
This is still the case although – according to a recent survey by Henley & Partners, a respected organisation which regularly produces statistics on this subject – the British passport has recently slipped slightly to eighth equal place, with Germany in the lead. But it’s still very good, and it lets you into 173 countries visa-free, as opposed to Germany’s 176, so it’s only very slightly behind.
What Dr Christian H Kälin, Chairman of Henley & Partners, said about this was interesting:
“Generally, visa requirements are a reflection of a country’s relationship with others, and take into account diplomatic relationships between countries, reciprocal visa arrangements, security risks, and the dangers of visa and immigration regulation violations.
We suspect that in the case of the UK – a country that is a very popular destination for migrants from many parts of the world – it is the “dangers of visa and immigration regulation violations” that weighs very heavily.
The UK Home Office publishes a list of those countries of whose nationals require a visa to visit the UK. It’s a kind of negative scheme: if a country is not on the list then nationals of that country do not need a visa to visit the UK.
It’s always fun to try and identify patterns in the “visa national list”, as it’s called. Large swathes of Africa (including South Africa) and the Indian subcontinent are occupied by visa national countries. But far East Asia and South-East Asia, however, are very mixed. Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore are non-visa countries, ie nationals of those countries do not need a visa to visit the UK, but mainland China and other countries in the region are on the list. (But, as a result of Britain’s former colonial involvement in the region, those holding a passport issued by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region do not require a visa.)
There may be a tendency here to favour democracies, but this is evidently not a hard and fast principle: the Philippines for example is a democracy but it is on the list, and this perhaps reflects the fact that the UK is a very popular destination for Filipinos, that there is already a large Filipino community here, and the Government sees the need to control the situation. Whereas there are communities of for example Japanese, but they are much smaller, and the Japanese do not, statistically speaking, show such a desire to come and settle in the UK.
And this brings to mind something that Dr Kälin did not refer to, but which surely must come into the picture somewhere. A country such as Japan is prosperous, and far more prosperous than some other countries in the region. It is hardly surprising that people from poorer countries want to come and settle in the UK and make a better life for themselves and their families.
Regarding Europe, there still seems to be something of an Iron Curtain stretching across the continent, but its boundary has been somewhat redrawn from how is was in the Cold War period. Some East European countries are of course nowadays happy democracies, members of the EU, NATO, and probably lots of other nice clubs.
But other East European countries have not embraced this (or in some cases perhaps have not been able to). Whereas there are no West European countries on the list, Russia is on it, as are Belarus, Georgia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Ukraine and Uzbekhistan.
It is difficult to define a clear pattern about this, and there is evidently a combination of factors which operates. It seems to us that good diplomatic relationships are not enough to have much effect on visa-free travel: the UK has good relationships with, for example, India and the now-democratic Ukraine, but this is evidently not enough to engender visa-free travel. Indeed, many of the countries on the list are members of the Commonwealth, which is – or at least was – a kind of British club.
Our conclusion on this fascinating subject is that the British are – despite some alleged unexpected cultural artefacts – internationally perceived as being nice, good and proper, and that it’s still worth aspiring to become British. And if you would like some legal advice about the possibilities we are more than happy to assist.