The UK’s new Hong Kong BNO visa route is set to open from 1 January 2021.
Aimed at British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) citizens ordinarily resident in Hong Kong and their immediate family members, holders will be allowed to move to the UK to live, work and study, and in time become eligible to register as British citizens.
Under current rules, BNO passport holders can visit the UK for up to six months without a visa.
But in response to the new National Security Law in Hong Kong, the UK Government has confirmed the new route is being created to extend the existing rights of BNO citizens to settle in the UK through visa eligibility criteria that are notably more lenient than those of other UK immigration routes.
In this guide, we look at what the new route is and who is eligible.
Key features of the Hong Kong BNO visa
|Unlimited number of visas||There will be no cap on the number of Hong Kong BNO visas issued.|
|Lenient eligibility criteria||There will be no skills or minimum income requirements applicable to this route.|
|Dependants also eligible||Applicants can bring their immediate dependants, including non-BNO citizens.|
|No job or sponsorship necessary||Applicants will not need to have found a job to be eligible – they can look for work once in the UK.|
|5-year visa duration||Applications can be made for an initial period of 30 months, extendable by a further 30 months, or as a single application for the full 5 years.|
|Route to settlement & citizenship||After 5 years in the UK under the Hong Kong BNO visa, holders can become eligible for UK indefinite leave to remain. After 12 months with ILR, they can become eligible for British citizenship.|
|No BNO passport necessary||Applicants do not need to have a BNO passport to be eligible for the Hong Kong BNO visa.|
|Permission to work & study||Visa holders will not need to seek additional permission to work or study in the UK.|
|Access to healthcare||Visa holders will be able to access the NHS, having paid the Immigration Health Surcharge.|
|Access to public education||Visa holders’ dependent children can attend state school.|
|Apply in the UK or from overseas||Applications can be made from within the UK or outside.|
|Liable for tax||Visa holders will pay national insurance and income tax.|
|No restrictions on employment||Visa holders will have access to the job market at any skill level and without salary threshold, and can be self-employed.|
Hong Kong BNO visa eligibility requirements
To be eligible for the Hong Kong BNO visa, applicants must hold ordinarily be resident in Hong Kong and hold BNO status. You will not need to have a valid BNO passport to make your application, as the Home Office should be able to check your status from records.
Applicants will need to prove their identity using any applicable nationality passport. You will have to pass criminal checks, meet the ‘good character’ requirements and also show a commitment to learning English. You will also have to pass a TB test from a Home Office approved clinic.
There is no application requirement to be sponsored, have certain skills or to have a job.
BNO citizens will need to support themselves in the UK financially for at least six months, and also provide their own accommodation. BNO visa holders will not be able to access public funds such as housing benefits when in the UK.
Applicants must also pay all relevant visa and immigration fees including the Immigration Health Surcharge. Note that applicants will have the choice to apply and pay for a 30-month visa, and to renew this, and paying the relevant fee, for a further 30 months. Or applicants may opt to apply and pay for a single 5-year visa, which the Home Office states will be a cheaper option overall that applying for two, 30-month visas. Each applicant will also have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge at the time of making the application, to cover the relevant visa period (30 months or 5 years).
The Immigration Health Surcharge will be increasing to £624 per visa holder per year, with a reduced rate for children. For a 5-year visa, this will equate to £3,120 per adult and £2,350 for applicants under 18 years of age.
Hong Kong children born after 1997
Children over the age of 18 are ordinarily not classed as dependants under the UK immigration rules. Likewise, those born after 1997 are not eligible for BNO status, nor is it not possible to apply for BNO status or for BNO citizens to pass their status on to their children.
Together, this means such children born after 1997 would not qualify under the new route.
However, when announcing the new visa in July 2020, the Home Secretary pledged discretion would be used when considering “compelling and compassionate” circumstances of children born in Hong Kong after 1997 who are dependants of a British National (Overseas) registered parent applying to come to the UK. Applications should be submitted together as a family unit.
Those who are not given a discretionary visa under these requirements may instead consider alternative routes under the UK immigration rules, such as:
- The Tier 5 Youth Mobility scheme, which is open to Hong Kong nationals between the ages of 18 and 25 to work in the UK, capped at 1000 places per year.
- Skilled worker visa – which will be opening to a broader range of skills and roles under new rules taking effect from 1 January 2021.
Applying for the Hong Kong BNO visa
Specific details of the application process, processing times and processing fees are yet to be published, but we do know most Hong Kong BNO visa applications are to be made online, and that they can be submitted from within the UK or overseas.
Supporting documents will need to be digitally uploaded, including proof of identity (such as a valid passport), proof of Hong Kong residence, evidence that you can financially support yourself and any dependants applying with you, and proof of passing the TB test.
From BNO visa to indefinite leave to remain & British citizenship
After 5 years in the UK under the Hong Kong BNO visa, holders become eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain. The ILR application requires applicants to show continuous residence in the UK during the qualifying 5-year period. This means having absences from the country of no more than 180 days in any 12-month period during the 5 years.
With ILR, you are no longer subject to immigration control and can remain in the UK indefinitely. Should you be absent fro the UK for more than 2 years, your ILR status will likely expire.
With 12 months ILR status, you may then become eligible to register as a British citizen under s4 of the British Nationality Act 1981. This requires you to complete Form B(OTA) and pay the registration fee of £1,225.20. Non-BNO family members, however, are expected to have to naturalise as a British citizen, a different process to registration which is also more expensive at £1,349.20.
Entering the UK prior to 1 January 2021
The UK Government has also advised that Hong Kong BNO citizens wishing to come to the UK prior to 1 Janaury 2021 will be able to do so, either under existing visa routes (for example, as a visitor for up to six months) or under special ‘Leave Outside the Rules‘provisions. These give discretionary powers to UK border officials to allow entry at the UK border to BNO citizens who are otherwise ineligible under the UK immigration rules, and their accompanying dependants, for a period of 6 months. If granted Leave Outside the Rules at the border, you can switch to the Hong Kong BNO visa from within the UK once the route opens.
DavidsonMorris are UK immigration specialists. We have substantial experience helping clients from Hong Kong secure UK visas. Our experienced lawyers are on hand to advise on your UK visa options and to guide you through the Home Office application process. For support with your UK visa application, contact us.
Last updated: 22 July 2020