If you’re a Hong Kong citizen and want to apply for a visa to visit the UK, the following guide looks at the different types of UK visa, when these are needed and the application process for obtaining a visa.
UK visa Hong Kong for BNO citizens
For a citizen who holds a British National Overseas (BNO) passport, they can currently come to the UK for up to 6 months without a visa, but for long stays they must apply for a visa in much the same way as other Hong Kong citizens.
If you are a BNO citizen, you should consider the new Hong Kong BNO visa, which is set to open from 1 January 2021.
If you are looking to travel to and enter the UK prior to the new route opening in 2021, and are otherwise ineligible for a visa under the UK immigration rules, you should consider the special provisions under ‘Leave Outside the Rules’. These afford discretionary powers to UK immigration officials to permit entry at the border to you and your accompanying dependants for a period of 6 months.
At the UK border, you will need to provide your identity usually with a valid passport, and your BNO status with either a valid or expired BN(O) citizen passport. If you do not have a BNO passport, the official may look up records to check your status. You will also need to show that you are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong and can financially support and accommodate yourself and any dependants. If travelling with dependants, you will also need to provide proof of your relationship, such as a marriage and birth certificates.
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.
UK visa Hong Kong: What are the different types of visa?
There are various different types of UK visa. You will need to determine the correct visa for your circumstances, depending, for example, on whether you are coming to the UK to study or to work, to join your partner or family for a long stay, or even to get married or enter into a civil partnership.
Each visa category also has its own eligibility and process requirements, and varying costs, which you will need to take account of before progressing with an application.
Below we examine some of the key different types of visa, including whether or not you will need a certain visa in the circumstances:
A standard visitor visa
If you have a Hong Kong passport and are travelling to the UK for the purposes of tourism, or to visit friends and family for a short stay, you won’t usually need a visitor visa to come to the UK. You can stay for up to 6 months without a visa.
You can also come to the UK without a standard visitor visa to undertake certain academic or business-related activities. This could include, for example:
- Going to a conference, meeting or training in the UK
- Taking part in a specific sports-related event
- Performing as an artist, entertainer or musician
- Conducting academic research
- Accompanying students on a study-abroad programme
If you don’t need a visitor visa, you should still bring the same documents you would need to apply for this type of visa, to show to officers at the UK border.
In circumstances where you have a criminal record, or you’ve previously been refused entry into the UK, you may want to apply for a visitor visa before you travel to help ensure that you won’t be refused entry on arrival.
A permitted paid engagements visa
You may be able to come to the UK without a permitted paid engagements visa if you have a Hong Kong passport and are invited as an expert in your profession.
You can stay in the UK for up to 1 month without this type of visa, but you can only be paid to do certain things, for example:
- Giving guest lectures at a higher education institution in the UK
- Providing advocacy in legal proceedings
- Taking part in arts, entertainment or sporting activities
Even where you are permitted to come to the UK without a permitted paid engagements visa, you must show officers at the UK border that you’re eligible for a visa, even if you don’t need one.
You may also want to apply for this type of visa if you have a criminal record or you’ve previously been refused entry into the UK.
A temporary worker visa
You don’t need a visa for some business and academic visits, but you must get a visa to work in the UK, even if only for a short time. You will need a temporary worker visa if you want to work in the UK in any of the following areas:
- In a skilled job
- On a transfer to your employer’s UK branch
- As a volunteer or in a work experience role
- For a charity or religious organisation
- As a domestic worker in a private household
- In work covered by international law, for example, for a foreign government or as a private servant in a diplomatic household
- In arts, entertainment or sports, although if your proposed stay in the UK is for less than 3 months, you don’t need a visa for qualifying work
The work visa you apply for will depend on your circumstances. There are various different types of temporary worker visa, with different periods of stay. These include visas under Tiers 2 and Tier 5 of the UK points-based system. Tier 2 is for skilled individuals typically travelling to take long-term positions in the UK, whereas Tier 5 is generally for less experienced workers or even voluntary staff, where their time in the UK is often limited.
You can also apply for a visa as a high-value worker under Tier 1 of the points based system. This includes visas for investors, or individuals wanting to set up or run a business in the UK, or for those with exceptional talent or promise in a qualifying field and have been endorsed as an emerging or recognised leader.
A student visa
If you have a Hong Kong passport and are travelling to the UK for the purposes of undertaking short-term study, you do not need a study visa. You can stay for up to 6 months without a visa.
If, on the other hand, you are planning to study in the UK on a university or college course for more than 6 months, or more than 11 months if it’s an English language course, you will need a general student visa under Tier 4 of the points-based system. You can apply for a short-term study visa if you’re 16 or over and studying an English language course for 11 months or less.
You can also apply for a Tier 4 child student visa if you’re under 18.
A family visa
You don’t need a visa if you’re visiting family or a partner for 6 months or less, but you will need a visa to join your family member in the UK for a long stay.
The type of family visa you apply for will depend on the situation of your relative or partner. You will need to apply for a ‘family of a settled person’ visa if your family member or partner is a British citizen, or they’re from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and they’re settled in the UK.
If they’re working or studying in the UK, you may be able to apply as a ‘dependant’ if they’re from outside the EEA. If, on the other hand, they’re from within the EEA but living in the UK, you will need to apply for a family permit.
A marriage visitor visa
If you and your partner want to get married or enter into a civil partnership in the UK, you will need to apply for a marriage visitor visa. If, on the other hand, you want to set up life in the UK and live there permanently, you can apply for a ‘family of a settled person’ visa if your partner is any of the following:
- A British citizen
- Settled in the UK
- Someone with humanitarian protection, for example, with refugee status
UK visa Hong Kong: What is the visa application process?
Having researched your UK visa type, you will need to make an application online through the UK Visas and Immigration website.
You can apply for a visa three months before the estimated date of travel to the UK. However, it is strongly recommended that you do not confirm travel arrangements before you have been issued with a visa.
Once you have completed your online application, you will need to pay the fee. The fees will differ depending on the type of visa you are applying for. Again, this should be done online within your Gov.uk application.
After making the payment, you need to print out the completed application form and sign it. Part of the online application is the time when you must make an online appointment to go to the visa application centre.
At this appointment you must bring:
- The printed and signed online visa application form
- Your Hong Kong or BNO passport, with at least one page blank on both sides for your visa
- A copy of your passport information page
- 1 passport-size colour facial photograph (45mm x 35mm)
- Any old passports or travel documents to show your travel history
When you attend the appointment, you will need to:
- Arrive 15 minutes in advance of the appointment time, where if you are late you will need to reschedule
- Submit the printed online visa application form and your supporting documentation
- Register your biometric information, ie; a scan of your fingerprints and a digital photograph of your face, unless you have immunity from so doing
If your finger is cut or damaged, or you have temporary decoration on your finger, such as Indian hand-painted or temporary painted tattoo, you cannot register biometric data until the wound is healed or the decoration is gone.
Visa processing times can differ, depending on the type of visa, although 90% of non-resident visa applications are completed within a period of 3 weeks and 95% of residence applications are completed within 12 weeks.
UK visa Hong Kong: What supporting documentation is required?
As each visa type requires different documentation in support, you will need to check your visa type carefully, for example, if you are applying for a visa under the points-based system, you should provide all the documents required by your visa category.
If you fail to provide all necessary information and supporting documents at the visa application centre, you may be refused a visa. The types of documents required could include proof that you can support yourself during your stay, a certificate of sponsorship from your UK employer, or a letter of acceptance for a course of studies at an accredited institution.
All documents must be originals and not photocopies. You will also need to provide a certified translation of any documents that are not in English. If you want these documents to be returned, you must copy the documents and provide both the original documents and their copies.
The original documents, together with your UK visa, if successful, can be collected from the visa application centre. You will be contacted by email, where you, or any designated representative, must show a copy of this email.
DavidsonMorris are UK immigration specialists. We have substantial experience working 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.
UK visa for Hong Kong FAQs
How can I apply for UK visa from Hong Kong?
To apply for a UK visa from Hong Kong you will need to submit an online application and attend an appointment at the visa application centre. At this appointment you will need to submit the printed online visa application form and your supporting documents. You will also need to register your biometric information, ie; a scan of your fingerprints and a digital photo of your face.
Is there a travel advisory for Hong Kong?
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are travel advisories worldwide, including for travel to Hong Kong. There may also be risks of violent clashes between police and protesters during anticipated political demonstrations if China implements national security legalisation on Hong Kong.
How can I check UK visa status online?
After completing the online application, you will receive an email message stating your application number, also known as ‘GWF reference number’. You can use this number to track your visa application online.
Last updated: 29June 2020