The Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa route was introduced from 31 January 2021 in response to the political changes in Hong Kong. The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration (ICIBI) has published the findings of the inspection carried out on this visa route.
What is the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Route?
In 2019, Hong Kong began experiencing significant political unrest. The number of Hong Kong residents who hold British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) status, including their family members, is estimated to be in the region of 5.4 million people.
Those with BN(O) status can hold a British passport and seek consular assistance and protection from UK diplomatic posts. They do not hold right of abode, however, and are therefore subject to UK immigration control.
We previously discussed the implementation of the Hong Kong BN(O) visa route here. The UK launched the new visa route on 31 January 2021. It allows BN(O)s and their family members to apply for permission to enter and stay in the UK for up to five years, following which, they will be able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).
Findings of the ICIBI’s inspection
The ICIBI published its inspection of the Hong Kong BN(O) visa route in November 2022. The ICIBI’s role is to report on and improve the efficiency of the Home Office’s immigration functions. Despite the current ongoing delays within other areas of the immigration system, the ICIBI’s inspection has been fairly positive.
The ICIBI’s Chief Inspector, David Neal’s Foreword states that the route “provides an efficient service with most applicants benefiting from a fully digital experience”.
He notes that the BN(O) caseworking team is able to “flex to demand and challenges due to significant investment in training additional caseworkers”. This is also credited to the “relatively straightforward set of requirements for this route”.
Furthermore, caseworkers were found to be engaged and motivated, and understand the importance of good customer service. The Foreword states this is likely to have been learnt from previous experience in implementing the EU Settlement Scheme.
The report states: “The management team had built a flexible and resilient workforce which could be scaled up in response to significant increases in demand. While there were just over 33 caseworkers assigned to Hong Kong BN(O) applications at the time of the inspection, around 200 staff had received training for this route”.
Areas for improvement
The ICIBI has also provided insight into areas in which improvements can be made, as follows:
- There are currently two different caseworking systems in use, which can result in family members who applied together being allocated to different caseworkers, under different systems, in separate teams.
- There are over 600 adult dependant relative applications that are currently on hold. These are believed to be delayed as granting them may have implications for other routes. The Home Office response states they wish to resolve this before the end of 2022.
- They requested the Home Office publish quarterly data on performance against the service standard for processing applications. The Home Office have accepted this.
- They recommended the Home Office record and share the lessons learnt from the introduction of this route for the benefit of other departments. This has also been accepted.
Therefore, there are certainly lessons to be had from the implementation of the Hong Kong BN(O) visa route that could be applied to other routes in order to improve efficiency. Given the overall positive feedback, we would hope the Home Office would consider investing in a similar level of training for caseworkers and a consideration of the complexity of requirements across the board.
How our immigration solicitors can help
Our immigration team provide expert advice on all aspects of immigration law. We specialise in assisting individuals who wish to apply under the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa route.
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