The UK government has introduced a new visa route for Hong Kong British National Overseas citizens and their dependants. The visa route will be open for applications from BNO citizens from January 2021 and will allow them to reside and work or study in the UK, with a pathway to settlement and then citizenship.
Why is the UK offering Hong Kong BNO visa?
Hong Kong is a former British colony, which was handed back to China in 1997. But before Hong Kong was returned, the UK and China made an agreement to introduce “one country, two systems”.The agreement signed in 1984 was set to last for 50 years from 1st July 1997 until 2047. At the time, the UK also created British National Overseas (BNO) nationality status for citizens of Hong Kong and required registration as such of citizens by 30 June 1997.
In June, China imposed new security law in Hong Kong, which gives China new controls over the people of Hong Kong. The UK perceive this to be in breach of the 1984 agreement.
Who can apply for Hong Kong BNO visa?
BNO citizens are eligible to apply. They do not need to hold a BNO passport in order to do so if they have another valid passport that allows visa-free travel to the UK.
Dependant family members of BNO citizens, including spouse or partner and children under the age of 18, will be eligible to apply. Dependants need not have BNO status themselves to be eligible.
Dependent children over the age of 18 who are still dependent on the BNO citizen will also qualify, provided they were born after the 1 July 1997, and at least one of their parents holds BNO status and they apply together as a family unit.
BNO citizens already in the UK on another form of leave will be able to apply and switch to the Hong Kong BNO Visa from within the UK from January 2021.
BNO citizens and their family members arriving at the UK border before January 2021 can be granted “Leave Outside the Rules” for a limited period of six months
The applicants and their dependants must:
- be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong, which includes those currently in the UK but who are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong,
- be able to demonstrate that they are self-sufficient, i.e. they can accommodate and support themselves in the UK for at least six months,
- hold a current tuberculosis test certificate from a clinic approved by the Home Office,
- pay a fee for the visa and the Immigration Health Surcharge both payable in full at the point of the visa application,
- have no criminal convictions, and nothing untoward about their behaviour.
Length of Visa
On approval of the application, the visa will be issued for up to 5 years, during which time the holder is subject to UK immigration control. This will consist of an initial period of 30 months’ leave, renewable by a second charged application for a further 30 months. Alternatively, applicants will be able to apply for 5 years’ leave from the outset, upon payment of a higher fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge for the duration
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. In order to qualify for settled status, visa holders must meet rules for continuous residence in the UK, which allow for absences of up to 180 days in any 12- month period as well as demonstrate knowledge of the English language. Once the settled status is acquired, it may be retained despite absences from the UK of up to 2 years but may be forfeited if absences are longer without good reason.
After a further year on the settled status, they may apply to naturalise as a British citizen.