British Citizenship For BNO Passport Holders in Hong Kong


The UK Prime Minister has stated that BNO passport holders in Hong Kong may be given a path to British citizenship, should the Chinese Government proceed with passing new security laws.


Possible changes to BNO passport holder rights

Boris Johnson has written in The Times (3 June 2020) that the Government would seek to enhance the existing rights of British National (Overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong, to allow them to come to the UK for 12 months without a visa, and enjoy the right to work. This would also create a route to British citizenship.

Current figures show 350,000 people in Hong Kong hold a BNO passport, and a further 2.6 million are also eligible.

Under current UK nationality rules, BNO passport holders in Hong Kong have the right to visit the UK for up to six months without the need to apply for a visa. They do not, however, have UK residency and cannot claim a Right of Abode here.

There have previously been calls, including a petition, calling for automatic citizenship and right to live and work in the UK to be given to BNOs. These have been rejected to date.


What is a BNO status? 

British National (Overseas) status is a specific type of British nationality. It was created by the Hong Kong Act 1985 for British Dependent Territories citizens of Hong Kong.

BNO status was not granted automatically; eligible individuals had to register before the end of the transfer of the territory to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Someone who was a British overseas territories citizen by connection with Hong Kong was able to register as a BNO before 1 July 1997.

British overseas territories citizens from Hong Kong who did not register BNO status and held no other nationality on 30 June 1997 became British overseas citizens on 1 July 1997.

BNO status is retained for life and is not affected by dual or mulitple nationality.

If you’re not already a British (overseas) national, you cannot apply for this status. BNO status is neither inheritable nor transferable. It has not been possible to attain the status since 1997, when the registration period ended. This also means children of BNOs do not obtain this status through their parents.

BNOs are recognised as Commonwealth Citizens. They are not British citizens and do not have the Right of Abode in either the UK or Hong Kong.

As Commonwealth Citizens, BNOs are afforded a number of rights in the UK, including being able to vote if they have lived in the UK for more than six months and apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain if they have lawfully resided continuously in the United Kingdom for five years.


What is a BNO passport?

Unlike British citizens, BNOs are subject to UK immigration control.

BNOs are entitled to apply for a BNO passport, which is a specific type of British passport that can be used as a travel document for international travel.


Can you apply for UK citizenship as a BNO?

Under current rules, in limited circumstances, BNOs may be eligible to register as a British citizen, provided they can show they meet the relevant qualifying criteria.


BNO British citizenship registration: British National (Overseas) with no other nationality

This refers to registration as a British citizen by descent. As well as being a British National (Overseas), you must not have lost, given up or held any other citizenship or nationality to register under this route.

Note that you do not necessarily have to have had a passport to have held nationality of a particular country.


BNO British citizenship registration: 5 years residency in Hong Kong

Under the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1997, as a BNO you may be able to register as a British citizen if you held British nationality either on or after 3 February 1997, you meet the Hong Kong residency requirement and satisfy the good character test. You must also not have held any other non-British nationality.

Under the residency requirement, you have to be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong on the date of your application and also immediately before 4 February 1997. If you were born after 3 February 1997, your application must be considered against the requirements as if the reference to “immediately before 4 February 1997” were a reference to the date on which they born.

To be classed as “ordinarily resident” in Hong Kong you must live there full time with lawful immigration status and had moved there voluntarily to settle.


BNO British citizenship registration: 5 years residency in the UK

You may also be able to apply for registration as a British citizen if you have been resident in the UK for a minimum of 5 years immediately prior to making your application. Other conditions include not having been absent from the UK for more than 450 days during the 5-year qualifying residency period, and for more than 90 days in the 12 months prior to your application. You will also have to show that you were present in the UK on the same day 5 years prior to making to your application and that you have no immigration breaches from this period.


BNO British citizenship registration: Crown service

Those who have provided crown or similar government service for a British overseas territory may also qualify to register, in exceptional circumstances. These include meeting the threshold for seniority of post, giving outstanding service and having close connection with the UK.


How to register British citizenship

To register for British citizenship, you will need to complete form EM and evidence your eligibility and pay the relevant fee.

As at June 2020, this is £1,206 per adult, per child. £1,012

If you do not send the correct documents your application could be delayed or refused without a refund.


Need assistance?

British nationality law is complex and UK Home Office applications are both lengthy and costly. For advice on your eligibility or on the possible changes to BNO rights in the UK, contact us and speak to our experts. We can also advise on general UK visa requirements.


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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