The UK has released further details of the immigration route for British Nationals (Overseas) citizens from Hong Kong. To reiterate our previous blog, BN(O) status is a form of British nationality created for people from Hong Kong so they could retain a form of British nationality after the handover to China in 1997. People could apply for BN(O) status for a period of ten years prior to the handover to China on 1st July 1997.
The Hong Kong BN(O) Visa will allow BN(O) citizens to reside and work or study in the UK, with a pathway to settlement and then citizenship. The initial 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, the holder will be able to apply for settled status. After a further year they may apply to naturalise as a British citizen.
The Hong Kong BN(O) Visa will be open for applications from BN(O) citizens from January 2021. BN(O) citizens do not need to hold a BN(O) passport in order to apply if they have another valid passport that allows visa-free travel to the UK. There is no need to apply for or renew a BN(O) passport specifically for the purpose of applying for the new BN(O) Visa.
BN(O) citizens with their immediate family dependants (spouse/partner and children aged under 18) will be eligible to apply for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa. Dependants need not have BN(O) status themselves to be eligible. Dependent grandparents or other relatives will not be eligible if they are not BN(O) citizens in their own right.
In compelling and compassionate circumstances, dependant visas may be granted to the children of BN(O) citizens who were born after 1997 (so are not BN(O) citizens), are over 18 and who are still dependent on the BN(O) citizen in question. Further, in exceptional circumstances of high dependency, other adult dependants of a BN(O) citizen may also be eligible at the UK Government’s discretion.
Entitlements under a BN(O) Visa
Successful BN(O) applicants will be able to rely on the following entitlements whilst in the UK:
- Leave to remain in the UK for a period of five years – consisting of an initial period of 30 months’ leave, renewable for a further 30 months. Alternatively, applicants will be able to apply for 5 years’ leave from the outset.
- The ability to apply for settlement in the UK after five years’ leave – provided they meet the criteria.
- The ability to apply for UK citizenship after 12 months settlement – provided they meet the criteria.
- The right to work in the UK in almost any capacity as an employed or self-employed person.
- Aaccess to education.
- Access to healthcare.
- Visa holders will not have recourse to public funds.
Possible issues which could arise for BN(O) passport holders when applying for a Visa
Further details regarding the process for applying for a BN(O) Visa are expected to be released over the coming weeks and months. Current information of the requirements for qualification however indicate potential obstacles that BN(O) persons will have to overcome in order to succeed in their application.
BN(O) Visa applicants will be expected to demonstrate their ability to accommodate and support themselves in the UK for an initial period of 6 months. It is currently unclear as to how applicants will be required to prove this. In other visa categories, applicants are required to hold a minimum amount of money in their name for a period of time to prove they can support themselves financially. People may have to keep a certain level of funds in their account. Those in poor financial positions may find meeting any strict evidential requirements challenging to meet. Further, it may be difficult for people to prove that they have accommodation in the UK as it is quite difficult for people to find long-term rental accommodation without have long-term residence status in the UK.
Another potential hurdle is the requirement not to have any serious criminal convictions. As touched upon in our previous blog, those that participated in the Hong Kong protests (and indeed those same people who may be seeking to apply for leave under the BN(O) category) may have received convictions for the part they played. Those that have such convictions will need to make detailed and robust representations to the Home Office to avoid an automatic refusal as any such conviction ought to be deemed to be an unjust conviction given the reasons for the unrest in Hong Kong.
There has also been some guidance released as to the English language requirement under the BN(O) Visa category. Whilst a proficiency in English language is not required from the outset, those who wish to obtain indefinite leave and eventual citizenship will need to learn English to the required standard. Therefore migrants need to be aware of the standard required of them and if they do not meet the standard of English language required before an application is made, they will be required to learn it and pass the necessary exams before the end of their initial grant of leave.
The above examples are just a few initial thoughts as to the challenges applicants could face under this new category and no doubt the immigration rules which should be announced in the autumn might provide more clarity as to how easy or difficult these applications will be. Each individual’s circumstances are different and applicants may find that their personal circumstances do not fit neatly into the requirements or may struggle to understand if they qualify at all.
The opportunity for BN(O) passports holders to come to the UK is welcomed and will likely bring benefits to the UK as the people of Hong Kong will bring their own skills and talents. It should be noted that the UK may not be the only destination as Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also considering visa routes, however theirs will likely differ greatly in eligibility and scope.
Should you wish to know more about the BN(O) Visa category, including whether you hold or could obtain a BN(O) passport, qualify for a BN(O) visa or with any queries in applying for the scheme, please contact us.
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Please note that this blog is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content of this blog.
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