The Virgin Islands, commonly referred to as the British Virgin Islands (BVI), is a British overseas territory located in the Caribbean to the east of Puerto Rico. The islands make up part of the Virgin Islands archipelago; the remaining islands constitute the US Virgin Islands and the Spanish Virgin Islands.
The official name of the Territory is still simply the "Virgin Islands", but the prefix "British" is often used to distinguish it from the neighbouring American territory which changed its name from the "Danish West Indies" to "Virgin Islands of the United States" in 1917. British Virgin Islands government publications continue to begin with the name "The Territory of the Virgin Islands", and the Territory's passports simply refer to the "Virgin Islands", and all laws begin with the words "Virgin Islands". Moreover, the Territory's Constitutional Commission has expressed the view that "every effort should be made", to encourage the use of the name "Virgin Islands".
The Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with over fifty other smaller islands and cays. About 15 of the islands are inhabited. The capital, Road Town, is situated on Tortola, the largest island, which is approximately 20 km (12 mi) long and 5 km (3 mi) wide. The islands have a population of about 27,800, of whom approximately 23,000 live on Tortola.
British Virgin Islanders are classed as British Overseas Territories citizens and since 2002 have had full British citizenship. Although the territory is not part of the European Union and not directly subject to EU laws, its citizens are deemed to be citizens of the EU as well.
The Virgin Islands were first settled by the Arawak from South America around 100 BC (though there is some evidence of Amerindian presence on the islands as far back as 1500 BC).
The Arawaks inhabited the islands until the 15th century when they were displaced by the more aggressive Caribs, a tribe from the Lesser Antilles islands, after whom the Caribbean Sea is named. View more about the territory's history, on the History of the Virgin Islands page
Geography & Climate
The British Virgin Islands comprise around sixty tropical Caribbean islands, ranging in size from the largest, Tortola 20 km (12 mi) long and 5 km (3 mi) wide, to tiny uninhabited islets. They are located in the Virgin Islands archipelago, a few miles east of the US Virgin Islands. The North Atlantic Ocean lies to the north of the islands, and the Caribbean Sea lies to the south. Most of the islands are volcanic in origin and have a hilly, rugged terrain. Anegada is geologically distinct from the rest of the group and is a flat island composed of limestone and coral. View more about the geography of the territory, on the Geography & Climate of the Virgin Islands page
The Territory operates as a parliamentary democracy. Ultimate executive authority in British Virgin Islands is vested in The Queen, and is exercised on her behalf by the Governor of the British Virgin Islands. The Governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government. Defence and most Foreign Affairs remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom.
The most recent constitution was adopted in 2007 (the Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007) and came into force when the Legislative Council was dissolved for the 2007 general election. The Head of Government under the constitution is the Premier (prior to the new constitution the office was referred to as Chief Minister), who is elected in a general election along with the other members of the ruling government as well as the members of the opposition. View more about the Government of the territory, on the Government of the Virgin Islands page.
The "four pillars" of the economy are tourism, financial services, agriculture and fishing. Politically, tourism is the more important of the four, as it employs a greater number of people within the Territory, and a larger proportion of the businesses in the tourist industry are locally owned, as are a number of the highly tourism-dependent sole traders (for example, taxi drivers and street vendors). Economically however, financial services associated with the territory's status as an offshore financial centre are by far the more important. 51.8% of the Government's revenue comes directly from licence fees for offshore companies, and considerable further sums are raised directly or indirectly from payroll taxes relating to salaries paid within the trust industry sector (which tend to be higher on average than those paid in the tourism sector). View more about the Economy of the territory, on the Economy of the Virgin Islands page.