The UK Government has reacted strongly to the imposition of new security legislation in Hong Kong by the Chinese Government. Measures include the announcement of a new Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa.
More detailed information on the new Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa was published by the UK Government on 22 July 2020 in a policy statement.
This confirms that the route will open in January 2021 and that special measures will be introduced for those arriving in the UK before the route opens.
Who can apply for the new Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa and what is it?
The new route will be open to British National (Overseas) (‘BNO’) citizens and their family members providing they are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong.
Applications will be made via a new digital process similar to the arrangements under the EU Settlement Scheme. This means that applicants will not need to attend any appointments in person. The policy statement confirms that applications will be able to be made from within the UK from January 2021 as well as from outside. This is providing the applicant is ordinarily resident in Hong Kong at the time of the application.
A digital visa will be granted. The standard visa will be granted for an initial period of two and a half years. Applicants will be able to extend this and apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, also known as settlement, after five years. At a higher cost, applicants will also have the option to apply for an initial five year visa, avoiding the need for an extension application.
Once the visa is granted, applicants and their family members will be able to live in the UK and, if desired, be able to work on an employed or self-employed basis. They will also be able to study at any level. Children can be enrolled at either a public school or an independent school.
Because they will have paid the Immigration Health Surcharge, they will also be able to access the National Health Service but will not be able to access ‘Public Funds’, details of which can be found here.
Who is a British National (Overseas) citizen?
BNO status is a form of British nationality created for people from Hong Kong. It enabled them to retain a connection to the UK following the 1997 handover of the UK’s responsibilities for Hong Kong to China. Anyone who was a British Dependent Territories citizen through a connection with Hong Kong was able to apply to register as a BNO and apply for a BNO passport.
People could apply for BNO status for a period of ten years prior to the handover to China on 1st July 1997. It is not possible to apply for BNO status now.
Do applicant’s need a British National (Overseas) passport?
The short answer is no, but being able to produce a valid or expired BNO passport may make the application process easier.
Can family members accompany the main applicant?
Yes. Spouses, partners and children will be able to live in the UK with the main applicant.
In an unusually welcome move, the policy paper confirms that, in certain exceptional circumstances, dependent children who are over 18, but born before 1 July 1997, and other family members where there is ‘high dependency’ may also be eligible for a visa. The policy paper indicates that the threshold for such applicants will be high and we expect that the Immigration Rules, once published, will confirm this.
Do applicants need to meet any financial requirements?
The policy statement says that applicants must ‘demonstrate their ability to accommodate and support themselves in the UK for at least six months’.
It is likely that we will need to wait for the Immigration Rules to be published before we know if there is a specific requirement as to the precise level of funds needed.
Do applicants need to be able to speak English?
For the initial visa, applicants need to demonstrate a ‘commitment to learn English in the UK where appropriate’. There won’t be a formal English language requirement.
Applicants will need to meet a formal English language requirement if they wish to settle in the UK after five years.
Are there any other requirements and do applicants need to pay visa fees and the Immigration Health Surcharge?
Applicants will need to have a TB test.
Applicants will have to pay a visa fee and the Immigration Heath Surcharge. The visa fee is yet to be announced.
Criminality and other character checks will be carried out. Those with serious criminal convictions, those who have engaged in behaviour that is not conducive to the public good or those who are liable for refusal on general grounds (for example, they have previously breached UK immigration law), will have their applications refused.
Does the route lead to settlement in the UK and British citizenship?
Yes. After five years applicants and their family can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, also known as settlement. They must have spent no more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12 month period during the five year qualifying period, be able to speak English and not fall foul of the criminality/character requirements.
A year later, they will be able to apply to become British citizens providing they meet the requirements.
Can applicants get the new Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa before January 2021?
The official route won’t open until January 2021. However, Border Force Officers will be able to grant Leave Outside the Rules for six months to BNO citizens and their family members upon arrival in the UK. This is providing they are not eligible for entry under any of the other immigration routes.
Whilst a BNO passport is not requirement (although will undoubtedly make the process quicker), a number of key requirements will need to be met to gain Leave Outside the Rules at the border. This includes being able to show the applicant, and any family, are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong, can accommodate and support themselves, are not liable for refusal generally (due to criminality, behaviour that is not conducive to the public good, etc.).
In Autumn, the UK Government will publish Immigration Rules setting out further details.
It is already clear though, from the policy statement, that the new Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa route will be of benefit to many individuals.
We will provide updates when further detail is published.
If you need legal advice on this visa, or any other aspect of the UK’s immigration system, please call us or complete our enquiry form below.