In line with the Sino-British Joint Declaration following the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, Hong Kong nationals were granted a form of UK nationality termed British National (Overseas) or BN(O). At present individuals holding this status are subject to immigration controls and do not have a right of abode in the UK. However, as we mentioned in our alert earlier in the month, the UK government has confirmed that in response to China imposing national security law on Hong Kong, new immigration arrangements will be put in place for BN(O)s.
What has changed?
The new regulations for BN(O)s will give Hong Kong nationals holding this status the opportunity to obtain a valid visa and enter the UK without having pre-arranged employment or having to meet skills tests or minimum income requirements. Further to this, after 5 years as a resident, they will then also be able to apply for full British Citizenship. They will be permitted to bring their immediate dependants but will need to be able to support themselves independently while living in the country.
Eligible applicants will be required to meet criminality checks and be subject to standard general grounds for refusal set out in the UK immigration rules. They will also be required to pay visa fees, including the Immigration Health Surcharge. The fees for the initial visa for BN(O) applicants and any renewal are yet to be announced. Children of BN(O) citizens are not eligible if born after 1997 or if they are over 18. However, in compelling and compassionate circumstances, the Home Office will use discretion to grant a visa to the children of BN(O) citizens who fall into this category and who are still dependent on the BN(O), or in exceptional circumstances, other adult dependants of a BN(O) citizens.
As mentioned, the new route will grant the BN(O) applicant a visa valid for up to 5 years. This will consist of an initial period of 30 months which can be further renewed for a second period of 30 months unless the individual applies for 5 years’ leave from the outset. They will have the right to work in the UK in almost any capacity as long as their employment is consistent with UK employment laws and subject to having the appropriate skills and qualifications. After 5 years in the UK and provided they have stayed free of criminality, have supported themselves financially and otherwise complied with the terms of the visa, they will be able to apply for settled status. Finally, after a further year with this status, they may then apply to naturalise as a British citizen.
During the 5 years of temporary residence as a visa holder, the BN(O) citizens will have access to the National Health Service and school aged children of BN(O) visa holders will have access to public education. They will not however have access to public funds such as unemployment and housing benefit and will be responsible for their own accommodation and maintenance.
In addition to holding BN(O) status, applicants and their dependants must also:
- Be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong, including those currently in the UK but who would ordinarily resident in Hong Kong;
- Be able to demonstrate their ability to accommodate and support themselves in the UK for at least six months;
- Demonstrate a commitment to learn English in the UK where appropriate. Applicants will require a good knowledge of the English language if they choose later to make an application for settled status after five years;
- Hold a current tuberculosis test certificate from a clinic approved by the Home Office
The application process to be implemented by the UK authorities will include a digital online application, based on similar technology currently used for the EU Settlement Scheme, and will in practice mean that the majority of applications can be completed without the need to send physical documents by post or to be interviewed. BN(O) citizens will not be required to submit fingerprint biometrics and will simply have to provide facial biometrics as part of the application process. Applications for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa can be made from Hong Kong, from within the UK or elsewhere. There is no requirement for applicants to apply for or hold a valid BN(O) passport and successful applicants will be able to travel on a valid Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Passport. Once approved, successful applicants will be issued with a digital visa.
The Home Office are aware that there may be a small number of BN(O) citizens who wish to travel to the UK prior to the new route being fully operational in January 2021. In these exceptional circumstances, Border Force Officers will be able to consider granting Leave Outside the Rules (‘LOTR’) for a period of six months to BN(O) citizens and their accompanying dependants at the UK border, if they do not satisfy Border Force that they are eligible for entry via another immigration route. However, it will still be at the discretion of the Border Force Officers to refuse individuals entry to the UK where there is good reason to do so.
What to expect /impact?
Any future work permit cancellations should now follow the above-mentioned process and employers should ensure they complete the cancellation process in a timely fashion following the end of an employee’s assignment. As the MOM may require the employment permit cancellation process to be completed before they will begin considering new applications, failure to accurately cancel permits at the right time may lead to delays in the processing of future cases.
For further information on the upcoming new immigration route for Hong Kong individuals holding British National (Overseas) status, please contact the Sterling Lexicon immigration team at firstname.lastname@example.org.