July 28th, 2020
New Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Visa Route
The UK Government has published a policy statement on the new Hong Kong British National (Overseas) (BN(O) Visa route for Hong Kong residents with British National (Overseas) status and their immediate family members, including non-BN(O) citizens.
The UK Government’s decision to introduce a new Hong Kong BN(O) Visa follows the imposition by the Chinese Government of a national security law on Hong Kong that restricts the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. On Monday, the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, suspended the UK’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The new national security law comes after mass protests in Hong Kong throughout 2019, which initially saw the bill withdrawn last September.
The publication of the policy statement follows the Government’s 1 July pledge to offer Hong Kong residents the chance to settle in the UK, after China was seen to be encroaching on Hong Kong’s independence as a Special Administrative Region under the ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement. The 50-year agreement was intended to protect the civil liberties – also referred to as Hong Kong’s Basic Law – of residents, including the right to protest, freedom of speech and the independence of the judiciary. The new legislation effectively criminalises what would previously have been considered free speech.
BN(O) status and Hong Kong
During the ten years prior to the handover of Hong Kong by the British to China, those in Hong Kong with British Dependent Territories citizenship were entitled to apply for BN(O) status under the Hong Kong Act 1985 and Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986. Some 3.4 million people registered for this status, of which it is thought around 2.9 million are still alive. BN(O) status is not hereditary and could not be retrospectively applied for after the deadline passed.
This new migration route to the UK is set to open in January 2021 and will be part of the UK Government’s new immigration system.
The new Hong Kong BN(O) Visa will allow BN(O) citizens to reside and work or study in the UK, with a pathway to settlement (also known as permanent residence or indefinite leave to remain) and then citizenship. For their part, BN(O) citizens wishing to come to the UK will be expected to be self-sufficient and to integrate and contribute to the betterment of UK society.
The visa will be valid for up to 5 years, during which time the holder is subject to UK immigration control. After 5 years in the UK and, provided they have stayed free of criminality, have supported themselves financially and otherwise complied with the terms of the visa, they will be able to apply for settled status; after a further year they may apply to naturalise as a British citizen.
Immigration fees and charges will be payable at each stage and it will be a condition of temporary residence that visa status is obtained and maintained in accordance with our rules. Visa holders will not require additional permissions to work or to study, and may become the dependants of a UK resident, for example through marriage.
To be eligible for the new visa route, applicants must demonstrate the following:
The Home Office have initially stated that ‘close family members’ for the purposes of this route refers to:
The policy also states that visas will be granted on a discretionary basis to adult dependent children of BN(O) citizens who were born after 1997 (so are not BN(O) citizens themselves) but who are over the age of 18 (and so would not normally be considered a dependant).
Although the route is set to open in January 2021, BN(O) citizens can currently come to the UK as visitors without a visa for up to 6 months. However, doing so does not allow you to work, reside or study in the UK.
The Government is expected to unveil the new Immigration Rules for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa in the Autumn.