The UK is opening a new immigration route that will allow British National (Overseas) citizens from Hong Kong to come to the UK to live, work or study and will offer a path to British citizenship.
The Hong Kong BN(O) visa will be available from January 2021 to Hong Kong’s British National (Overseas) passport holders and their immediate dependants.
A “special” route for BN(O) passport holders
The visa is the UK Government’s response to the strict, new security law in Hong Kong.
It will extend the existing immigration rights of Hong Kong BNO citizens in the UK substantially.
Currently, BNO passport holders are permitted to visit the UK for up to 6 months without having to apply for a visa.
Under the new visa, holders will be permitted to remain in the UK for 5 years, at which point they become eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain.
They will be afforded the Right to Work and to become active in the UK job market either on a self-employed basis or in a job at any level commensurate with their skill and experience.
Visa holders will be able to access NHS healthcare, free at the point of use, having paid the Immigration Health Surcharge. The visa also allows access to state schooling for dependants under 18, education and training for young people aged 16-19 and the ability to apply for higher education courses.
Who is eligible for the Hong Kong BN(O) visa?
The route will be open to BN(O) passport holders from Hong Kong and their immediate family members, such as a spouse, partner and children under 18.
The eligibility requirements for the Hong Kong BNO visa are relatively relaxed compared with other UK immigration routes.
Applicants must hold BN(O) status and be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong.
They will not need to have found a job or be sponsored when applying. They will be permitted to find work or become self-employed once in the UK.
Visa holders will have to show they can financially support and provide accommodation for themselves and any dependants for six months. They will not be able to access public funds or claim benefits.
They will also need to pass a tuberculosis (TB) test at an approved test centre and show a commitment to learning English. While there will be no language requirement for entry under the BNO visa, at the 5-year settlement stage, you will need to pass an English language test to be eligible for indefinite leave to remain.
Applicants must meet the good character requirement and have no serious criminal convictions, although those with offences relating to the recent demonstrations in Hong Kong may still qualify.
Applicants will also have to pay all relevant fees, including the application fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge. By paying the IHS, visa holders can access NHS services.
Eligibility of non-BN(O) adult children
BNO status has not been available since 1997, nor can it be passed down through parents. While adult children over 18 would not ordinarily be classed as dependants under the UK immigration rules, the Home Secretary confirmed discretion would be used to consider applications from adult dependants of BNO passport holders if they are part of a family unit.
Dependant applications should be made at the same time as the BNO passport holder’s, and evidence will need to be provided to prove the dependants’ relationship to the BNO citizen.
Applying for a Hong Kong BNO visa
Initial Home Office guidance states applications are to be made online, using a system similar to that used for UK settled status registration. This would see applicants scan their passport, provide a facial image and submit supporting documents digitally.
BN(O) citizens will not need to have a BN(O) passport to apply for the visa.
Applications can be made either in a single application or as two periods of 30 months’ leave. Applicants will want to calculate the cost difference – paying once will mean a larger lump sum payment, but this is likely to be cheaper overall than making two separate applications with separate application fees.
Applications can be made by ‘switching’ visa categories if you are already in the UK, or you can apply from overseas, provided you meet the visa requirements and are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong.
After 5 years in the UK, visa holders can become eligible to apply for UK settlement (ILR). If granted, after 12 months with ILR status, they may be able to register as British citizens.
Arriving in the UK before January 2021
Further special provision was confirmed by the Home Office for BNO passport holders wishing to come to the UK before the new visa route opens.
BNOs and their accompanying dependent family members arriving before January 2021 may be granted “Leave Outside the Rules” at the UK border for a limited period of six months, if they can show border officials that no other UK immigration route is open to them.
While Hong Kong nationals remain able to visit the UK for up to 6 months without a visa, this does not allow for entry with the intention to settle. Leave Outside the Rules permits entry where the intention is to remain and to apply for the new visa once the route opens.
Arrivals will need to provide evidence at the border that:
- they hold BN(O) status
- they are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong
- they are related to any accompanying dependents
- they can accommodate and support themselves and any dependants for their initial period in the UK; and
- they have no serious criminal convictions and meet the good character requirement.
No provision for overstaying
Hong Kong BN(O) nationals already in the UK with leave that is due to expire before the new route opens are advised that they will need to either secure the relevant permission to extend their leave and avoid overstaying on an expired visa, or they will have to leave the UK and return.