The new Hong Kong BN(O) scheme allows overseas British Citizens to reside, work and study in the UK, with a pathway to secure residency and citizenship.
On 1st July 2020, the UK government announced the eagerly anticipated new scheme for all British National (Overseas) people and their dependents. The route aims to provide an accessible opportunity for Hong Kong residents to relocate to the UK faster than the current options available, in light of the national security legislation imposed on Hong Kong.
The British National (Overseas) nationality status is not new and was created to recognise the unique ties the UK has with Hong Kong owing to their position in the country before 1997.
However, in recent months, the ‘one country, two systems’ framework has been jeopardised. As such, the UK government seeks to improve the entitlements of British National (Overseas) status holders and assure them that the UK remains open.
The British Government announces that this new visa scheme will open in January 2021 without any skills tests or minimum income requirements. Moreover, the route will provide the opportunity to acquire full British Citizenship.
Under the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa, eligible citizens and dependents will be granted leave to remain in the UK for five years, consisting of either:
- An initial period of 30 months, renewable by a further 20 months.
- A single period of 5 years leave.
- Eligibility for Permanent Residence in 5 years – Citizenship in 6 years.
To apply for a Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) Visa, applicants must:
- Be a British National (Overseas) Citizen, ordinarily resident in Hong Kong, without any criminal or negative character-related records;
- Demonstrate that they are self-supporting. While this generous route does not impose a financial threshold, the principal applicant and their dependants must be able to support and accommodate themselves in the UK without public funds for at least six months;
- Demonstrate a commitment to learning English, where appropriate;
- Hold a tuberculosis (TB) test certificate from a clinic approved by the Home Office;
- Pay a fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge.
The primary applicant may bring their spouse/partner and children under the age of 18 as dependants. There is also the possibility of bringing adult dependant relatives. However, this is at the discretion of the Home Office. The main applicant and their dependants must be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong.
Applications can be made from inside the UK if the principal applicant is lawfully in the country when the new visa route opens. Alternatively, applications can be made from Hong Kong along with a tuberculosis test certificate.
While there is no English language requirement for the initial visa, should the applicant wish to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, they will need to demonstrate a good knowledge of the English language. This will need to be proven five years after residing in the UK under this scheme.
The fee has not yet been confirmed, but there is likely to be an application charge, biometric enrolment fee and immigration health surcharge.
Conditions and Entitlements
If successful, the visa will be granted for 2.5 years with the ability to extend for a further 2.5 years. The visa will be digital-only, and accessible online. Visa holders may work or study in the UK; however, they will be unable to claim public funds.
After five years of continuous residence, the applicant can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain to remain in the UK. One year after securing Indefinite Leave to Remain, applicants can apply to become British Citizens.
The visa allows applicants to:
- Work in the UK as an employed or self-employed person.
- Access free healthcare free.
Applicants may not:
- Receive public funds.
While we await the finer details, it is clear that this is a generous scheme providing a flexible route for British National (Overseas) Citizens and their families to relocate to the UK during these uncertain times.
With a designated team of qualified and experienced lawyers, Astons are on hand and ready to assist applicants with preparing and submitting applications as soon as the scheme opens in January 2021.