The UK Home Secretary (HS), Priti Patel, provided further details regarding the Hong Kong British Nationals Overseas BN(O) visa on July 22nd. The BN(O) visa route will be open to applicants from January 2021.
The BN(O) visa is the UK’s response to the People’s Republic of China’s breach of the terms outlined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 regarding Hong Kong and offers British overseas nationals from Hong Kong a direct route to residency, and the subsequent possibility of naturalization, in the UK.
“Those who come to the UK through this route will be able to apply to settle in the UK with indefinite leave to remain once they have lived in the UK for 5 years,” wrote Patel in a statement on the government’s website. “After 12 months with this status, they will then be able to apply for British citizenship.”
HS Patel went on to highlight that holding a Hong Kong BN(O) passport is not necessary to qualify.
“In order for BN(O)s citizens to take up this offer, they do not need to have a valid Hong Kong BN(O) passport. They’ll need a valid passport to show proof of identity, but this can be any applicable nationality passport. They can use a valid or expired BN(O) passport to show proof of BN(O) status, however, if they do not have a BN(O) passport the Home Office may be able to check status without one.”
As the BN(O) visa route will only take effect in January 2021, the UK has encouraged Hong Kong BN(O) citizens – as a stopgap measure – to come to the UK through existing visas, be they visitor visas or otherwise. HS Patel went on to brief the public on how those incapable of meeting the existing immigration rule requirements should proceed, indicating they could apply for “Leave Outside the Rules” at the border. All BN(O) citizens can then switch to the BN(O) visa within the UK once the application doors open.
The Home Office has published guidance on its website detailing the requirements, procedures, and documentation required:
- Applicants must have BN(O) status – yet they don’t need valid BN(O) passport to show this and nor do they need to request a new passport if it’s expired or has been lost
- Applicants must be normally living in Hong Kong
- The applicant can accommodate and support themself financially in the UK for at least 6 months
- Applicants must show a commitment to learn English, where appropriate
- Applicants must obtain a tuberculosis (TB) test certificate from a clinic approved by the Home Office
- Applicants must pay a fee and the immigration health surcharge
The guidance also provides details on how BN(O) citizens can enter the UK through Leave Outside the Rules, listing the following main requirements to be considered:
- Identity documentation
- BN(O) citizen status
- Proof of being ordinarily resident in Hong Kong
- Proof of ability to accommodate and support oneself financially in the UK
How might the BN(O) visa affect demand for investor visas?
The BN(O) visa route may affect the – pragmatically speaking – more profitable visas offered by the UK, notably the Tier 1 Investor visa. Hong Kong nationals made up approximately 11% of all successful Tier 1 Investor applications in 2019, while in Q1 of 2020 that percentage surged to 33% of all applications worldwide. The BN(O) visa is likely to negatively affect these numbers, inasmuch as it provides a more cost-effective route to UK entry.
In a statement posted on the government’s website, Patel emphasized that the situation in Hong Kong is by no means a small matter, saying “The decision of the Chinese Government to impose its national security legislation on Hong Kong is a matter of deep regret to this Government. This legislation and its strict implementation constitute a clear breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, undermining the “one country, two systems” framework. It cannot be ignored.”
The HS went on to clarify the UK’s stance on the matter and express support for its BN(O) citizens in the embattled territory.
“Before the handover of the UK’s responsibilities for Hong Kong, we created the British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) nationality status which was opened to people in Hong Kong, through a registration process, to those who had British Dependent Territories citizenship. This status recognised the special and enduring ties the UK has with those people as a result of our role in Hong Kong before 1997. Now that China, through its actions, has changed the circumstances that BN(O) citizens find themselves in, it is right that we should change the entitlements which are attached to BN(O) status. I have decided to improve significantly those entitlements, to reassure BN(O) citizens that they have options to live in the UK if they decide that is an appropriate choice for them.”