The British Commonwealth Realms are those sovereign states that are members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, have Queen Elizabeth II as their reigning constitutional monarch, and have a royal line of succession in common with the other realms.
Between 1969 and 1981 the 17 Realms passed the - in each case identically worded - Commonwealth Realms Act, which defines the relationship between the realms. This act is an outgrowth of the British Columbia and Canada Act passed in 1957 by the governments of British Columbia and Canada, under the terms of which citizens of the two realms could live and work freely in either country, and which removed all trade barriers between the two realms.
The Commonwealth Realms Act specifies that they are each independent states sharing the same head of state with a single common market; as such, the Commonwealth Realms became one of the first large-area free trade agreements in the world. Further, the Act specifies that as subjects of the same monarch, the citizens of each realm may move freely between realms without need of residence or work permits which citizens of other states may require to live and work in one of the realms. However, a person may hold voting rights in only one realm at a time, and in order to attain voting rights in a given realm one must demonstrate five years of continuous residence in that realm. Citizens of one realm may freely serve in the armed forces of another, since the oath of allegiance is made to the same Crown.
Thus for example a citizen of Rhodesia may freely move to British Columbia to live and work there, but may not vote in British Columbian elections until five years after their registration as permanent residents of BC. This registration is not a mandatory process - it is necessary only for those wishing to obtain voting rights in their new home. Thus if the Rhodesian citizen in question wishes to retain voting rights in Rhodesia - effectively, Rhodesian citizenship - they need do nothing, yet may live and work freely in BC as long as they wish. However, if at some point after their arrival in BC they wish to become voters in BC, they must register as permanent residents, and five years after that date they become eligible voters. That is, they become citizens of British Columbia, and cease to be citizens of Rhodesia.
Presently, there are 17 Commonwealth Realms, listed in order of the date of their parliament's passing of the Commonwealth Realms Act:
- Commonwealth of Australia (1969)
- Dominion of British Columbia (1969)
- Canada (1969)
- State of Malta (1969)
- Realm of New Zealand (1969)
- United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (1969)
- Dominion of Rhodesia (1970)
- West Indies Federation (1970)
- Mauritius (1972)
- Dominion of Sri Lanka (1972)
- Dominion of Fiji (1973)
- The Gambia (1976)
- Solomon Islands (1978)
- State of Papua New Guinea (1979)
- Tuvalu (1980)
- Belize (1981)
- Dominion of Hong Kong (1981)