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Regions and territories: British Virgin Islands

Map of the British Virgin Islands

The British Virgin Islands, or BVI, comprise more than 40 Caribbean islands and islets with subtropical vegetation, white sandy beaches and coral reefs.

The British overseas territory forms part of an island chain, alongside the neighbouring US Virgin Islands. Tortola, the largest of the 16 inhabited islands, is home to more than three quarters of the population.

Overview

Tourism and offshore finance dominate the economy. Beef Island airport opened in 1968 and, a year later, the first yacht charter business was established, heralding the growth of a lucrative tourist industry.

With its agreeable climate, tranquil and clear waters, yachting and water sports, it is easy to see why the BVI is a popular destination. The islands are, however, prone to tropical storms and hurricanes.

Boats on the main island of Tortola
Tortola - a mariners' haven

Financial and business services account for nearly half of the islands' GDP. Legislation adopted in the mid-1980s enabled a rapid expansion of international financial services.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) removed the territory from its list of uncooperative tax havens in 2002, although a British government commission called on the Islands, along with other Territories and Crown Dependencies, to improve standards of regulation in an October 2009 report.

Named by Christopher Columbus in 1493, the islands were settled by the Dutch until 1666. The main island of Tortola was annexed by the Leeward Islands governor in 1672. The BVI as a whole became part of Britain's Leeward Islands colony in 1872.

The Leewards were administered under a federal system until 1956. After the Leewards had been de-federated, the BVI were granted separate colony status in 1960 and were awarded a limited degree of self-rule in 1967. Subsequent legislative amendments over the next few decades gradually extended the islands' autonomy.

In 2002 the British Overseas Territories Act granted British citizenship to the islanders, who can hold British passports and may work in the UK and EU. The territory has tightened its immigration regulations; illegal migrants have used the islands as a springboard to the US.

A new constitution adopted in 2007 established a greater degree of self-government. Under this constitution, the post of premier replaced that of chief minister as head of government.

Facts

  • Territory: British Virgin Islands
  • Status: British overseas territory
  • Population: 22,200 (via UN, 2006)
  • Capital: Road Town, Tortola
  • Area: 153 sq km (59 sq miles)
  • Major language: English
  • Major religion: Christianity
  • Life expectancy: n/a
  • Monetary unit: US dollar
  • Main exports: Rum, fruit, livestock, sand and gravel
  • GNI per capita: n/a
  • Internet domain: .vg
  • International dialling code: +1 284

Leaders

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by a governor. The governor is responsible for external affairs, defence, internal security, public services and the administration of the courts.

Premier: Orlando Smith

Orlando Smith was elected to his second stint as premier after his National Democratic Party decisively defeated incumbent Ralph O'Neal's Virgin Islands Party in a November 2011 general election.

The NDP won nine seats - up from two in the last election - to the VIP's four - down from 11. After the result, Mr Smith said his priority was to get the British overseas territory's economy "back on track".

The NDP promised to safeguard the vital tourism and financial service sectors, reduce the cost of living, increase home ownership, and upgrade schools and hospitals.

Mr Smith's first time in office, from 2003-2007, was ended by a crushing electon defeat to Mr O'Neal.

Born in 1944, Mr Smith trained as a physician.

The territory has a ministerial system of government. Elections to the 13-member Legislative Council are held every four years.

Media

There are no public broadcasters based in the BVI; the TV station and radio stations are operated by private concerns.

Multichannel and international TV services are widely available via cable and satellite.

Newspapers are free to criticise the government and its policies.

There were 14,620 internet users by August 2010 (via Internetworldstats.com).

The press

Television

  • Virgin Islands TV Network (VITV) - private

Radio

  • ZBVI- private, mediumwave (AM)
  • ZROD- private, FM
  • Z-Wave - private, FM
  • Z-Hit - private, FM
  • Z-Gold - private, FM


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