The government has now announced details of how it will be assisting an estimated 3 million Hong Kong citizens to come and live in the UK. The new visa category is available to those who hold or have the right to hold BN(O) passports.
BN(O) status is a form of British nationality created for people from Hong Kong so they could retain a form of British nationality and connection to the UK after the handover to China in 1997 in line with the Sino-British Joint Declaration. BN(O) citizens can hold a British passport and get consular assistance and protection from UK diplomatic posts but they remain subject to immigration controls and do not have a right of abode in the UK.
The new visa will allow BN(O) citizens to live, work and study in the UK, with a potential pathway to settlement ( also known as indefinite leave to remain).
Currently BN(O) citizens can come to the UK as visitors for up to 6 months without a visa and are subject to immigration control meaning they cannot live, work or take up long term study in the UK without acquiring the appropriate visa first.
The new Hong Kong BN(O) Visa will be open for BN(O) citizens and their close family members from January 2021. BN(O) citizens will be able to apply from the outside or inside the UK through a digital application process.
From next year, BN(O) citizens will be able to apply to enter or remain in the UK for an initial period of 30 months, extendable by a further 30 months or alternatively apply for 5 years leave from the outset. The new Hong Kong BN(O) Visa will allow BN(O) citizens to work and study in the UK but they will not be able to access public funds such as social welfare benefits.
To be eligible for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa, applicants will need to show that they:
- have BN(O) status;
- normally live in Hong Kong (which includes those who may be temporarily in the UK);
- can accommodate and support themselves financially in the UK for at least 6 months;
- have a commitment to learn English (there will be no English language requirement on entry but applicants will require a good knowledge of the English language if they choose later to make a future application for indefinite leave to remain);
- have obtained a suitable TB test certificate from a clinic approved by the Home Office;
- have no serious criminal convictions or other character issues that would ordinarily lead to refusal of a visa
BN(O) citizens will need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge until acquiring indefinite leave to remain and will be required to pay application fees when applying for leave to enter or remain. Those fees have yet to be set.
Holding a valid BN(O) passport is not necessary to apply for the new visa so long as applicants can demonstrate their right to BN(O) status. BN(O) citizens will not, therefore, need to renew their BN(O) passports or apply for a passport in the meantime.
BN(O) citizens will be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain once they have lived in the UK for 5 years and will need to meet the usual requirements for indefinite leave to remain at the time they apply. Those with indefinite leave to remain can go on to acquire British Citizenship, usually within 12 months.
BN(O) citizens already in the UK on another form of leave will be able to apply and switch to the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa from January 2021. BN(O) citizens already in the UK whose leave is due to expire before the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa is available, should look to extend their leave and then apply for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa next year.
In situations where the family members of BN(O) citizens need to travel to the UK before the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa is operational, Border Force Officers will be able to consider granting Leave Outside the Rules for a period of six months at the UK border if they do not satisfy Border Force that they are eligible for entry via another immigration route.
For those Hong Kong nationals who are not eligible for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa then the existing youth mobility scheme is still open to Hong Kong nationals aged between 18 and 30 years, with 1000 places currently available each year. Individuals from Hong Kong will also be able to apply to come to the UK under the terms of the UK’s 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.