The British Virgin Islands consist of some 50 Caribbean islands and islets, totaling 153 sq km (59 sq mi), at about 18° 25′ N and 64° 30′ W . Until 1 July 1956, they were administered as part of the Leeward Islands. The mid-2002 population was estimated at 21,272, with 83% of African descent, and the remainder of white, Indian, Asian, or mixed descent. About 40% of the population consists of immigrants from St. Kitts and Nevis or from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Road Town (metropolitan population estimated at 18,000 in 2002) on the island of Tortola is the capital. The climate is pleasantly subtropical. At least 177 km (110 mi) of roads were paved as of 2000. There are several airstrips on the islands.
Under the constitution of 1968, as revised in 1977, the government is headed by a British-appointed administrator, who is assisted by an Executive Council and a Legislative Council of 13 members.
The economy is interdependent with that of the US Virgin Islands, which lie to the west. The US dollar is the legal currency. Livestock raising, farming, and fishing are the principal economic activities. Light industries include distilleries for alcoholic beverages, a concrete block factory, boat building, and handicrafts. Offshore financial services have also become a prominent part of the economy. Imports come predominantly from the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, or the US, and include building materials, automobiles, foodstuffs, and machinery. The overwhelmingly adverse balance of trade is offset by remittances from migrant workers and an expanding tourist industry. Tourism accounts for about 45% of the islands' annual income; in 1998 there were an estimated 350,000 visitors, mainly from the United States. Principal export partners include the Virgin Islands (US), Puerto Rico, and the United States. Per capita GDP was $16,000 in 2000.
The infant mortality rate—19.55 per 1,000 live births in 2002—has been reduced from 78.9 per 1,000 live births in 1960.
Primary education is provided by the state between the ages of 5 and 15 and compulsory up to the age of 13. There are three public and private high schools in the British Virgin Islands. Scholarships are available for students to attend a university in the Caribbean, the US, or the UK. The sole newspaper, the Island Sun , is published weekly.