On the 22 July 2020 the government confirmed that the UK will be extending residence rights for British Nationals (Overseas) citizens in Hong Kong and published this policy.
This follows the decision of the Chinese Government to impose a wide-ranging national security law in Hong Kong, restricting British Nationals (Overseas) unique rights and freedoms, thereby breaching the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
British Nationals (Overseas) status is a form of British nationality held by an estimated 2.9 million in Hong Kong. Rights associated with BNO status include the right to hold a British passport and the right to seek consular assistance and protection from UK diplomatic posts, but provides no automatic right to live or work in the UK.
The status was created in 1987 by the Hong Kong Act 1985 and the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986. It was part of the 10-year handover preparations that entitled Hong Kong residents previously classed as British Dependent Territories citizens, to apply to register for BNO status before Hong Kong was handed back to the People’s Republic of China to became one of China’s Special Administrative Regions in 1997.
The new bespoke immigration route will be open for applications from January 2021.
The visa will grant BNOs up to 5 years limited leave to remain in the UK, instead of the current 6-month limit. At the end of those 5 years they can apply for settled status/indefinite leave to remain if they meet the continuous residence requirements, which allow for absences of up to 180 days in any 12-month period. After a further 12 months with that status they will be able to apply for British citizenship.
To progress to citizenship, BNOs with indefinite leave to remain will not need to apply to naturalise. Instead they will be able to register as British citizens under section 4 of the British Nationality Act 1981.
Who is eligible for this visa route?
- British Nationals (Overseas) citizens
- Immediate family members of BN(O) citizens (spouse, partner & children aged under 18)
- Children over the age of 18 – if there are compelling and compassionate circumstances and they are still dependant on the BN(O) citizen
- Adult dependants of BN(O) citizens in exceptional circumstances of high dependency
To prove BN(O) status applicants can use an expired BNO passport. If their BNO passport is lost they can prove their status by using historical records held by Her Majesty’s Passport Office.
What other requirements must be met?
Applicants and their dependants must also:
- Be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong
- Be able to accommodate and support themselves in the UK for at least 6 months
- Demonstrate a commitment to learn English
- Have a current tuberculosis test certificate from a clinic approved by the Home Office
- Have no serious criminal convictions
- Have not otherwise engaged in behaviour deemed not conducive to the public good
- Pay the visa fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge.
What are the conditions and entitlements of this visa?
- Leave to remain in the UK for a period of 5 years.
This can be an initial period of 30 months’ leave with the possibility to renew for a further 30 months’ or 5 years’ leave from the outset
- Ability to apply for settlement & UK citizenship (if previously mentioned qualifying requirements are met)
- No recourse to public funds
- Right to work in the UK
- Access to healthcare if the immigration health surcharge has been paid
- Access to education including:
schooling for a child under 18 who is a dependant
education and training for young people aged 16-19
ability to apply for higher education courses
What is the application process?
Applicants can make an online application from inside or outside of the UK.
BN(O) citizens will only be required to provide facial biometrics as part of their application. Dependants of BN(O) citizens who aren’t BN(O) citizens themselves will also need to provide their fingerprints.
BN(O) citizens already in the UK, whose leave is due to expire before the Hong Kong BN(O) visa is available, will need to extend their leave in line with the rules of their existing route and then apply for the new visa.
Further details from the government will follow for those on a visa without the possibility to extend.
Arrivals at the border
Those eligible for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa are encouraged to apply and travel to the UK from January 2021.
BN(O) citizens and their accompanying dependants who choose to travel sooner may be granted Leave Outside the Rules (LOTR) for a period of 6 months if they are able to demonstrate that they meet all eligibility requirements.
Further details, such as visa costs, will be announced by the government in the coming months.
Hong Kong citizens who do not meet the eligibility requirements will be able to apply to come to the UK under the Youth Mobility Scheme if aged between 18-30 or under the terms of the UK’s new Points Based System, which will enable individuals to come to the UK in a wider range of professions and at a lower general salary threshold than in the past.