As has been widely reported recently, the UK government has responded to recent Chinese national security legislation by offering a route for people who hold British National (Overseas) citizenship, or “BN(O)”, to live and work in the UK, with the potential to stay here permanently and obtain full British citizenship in due course.
What is British National (Overseas) citizenship?
BN(O)s are people who obtained this citizenship through Britain’s connection with Hong Kong before 1 July 1997. BN(O)s needed to register for this at the time and it is not possible to register now or pass this onto children, so the new route won’t be open to everyone in Hong Kong. Current information suggests that there are about 350,000 people who currently hold BN(O) passports but that about 3 million people may have BN(O) status. When you add in their dependants, this means a large number of people who will be able to apply for the new visa if they wish to do so.
What can BN(O)s do now?
At the moment, BN(O)s can come to the UK as tourists or business visitors without applying for a visa first, unlike most other Chinese citizens, and are entitled to consular assistance from the British government while abroad. However, unlike full British citizens, BN(O)s are not able to live and work in the UK without restriction and need an appropriate visa to work here. BN(O)s currently need to meet the same visa rules as people applying from anywhere else in the world, with the addition that young BN(O)s aged between 18 and 31 are also eligible to apply for temporary visas under the Youth Mobility Scheme (which is only available to certain nationalities – young people from Hong Kong who are not BN(O)s can also apply but that is limited to 1000 places a year).
What are the proposals?
The new visa route is intended to allow BN(O)s and their dependants to move to the UK to live, work and study for up to five years (either in one go or by extending after 2.5 years), after which they may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain, or “settled” status. A year after getting settled status they may be eligible to apply for British citizenship. If a visa holder does not apply for settled status or to change to another visa category, they will be expected to leave the UK – it appears that this is a one-shot visa. Visa application fees and the Immigration Health Surcharge will need to be paid at certain stages of the process and visa holders will be able to use the NHS but not receive public funds like unemployment or housing benefits.
How will it work?
Applicants will need to be BN(O)s or immediate family dependants (spouse or partner and children under 18) of a BN(O) but don’t need to hold a valid BN(O) passport. Applicants must be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong and show that they can accommodate and support themselves in the UK for at least six months (although no specific cash figure has been attached to this requirement). There will not be an English requirement at the outset but applicants must demonstrate a commitment to learn the language and will need to meet this requirement later. In addition, like most people making visa applications from Hong Kong, applicants will need to provide a valid TB certificate from an approved clinic. Criminal convictions can affect eligibility for this visa, and for settled status in due course. Further details on the visa rules and fees are expected in the Autumn, with the category intended to open in January 2021.
What if we can’t wait?
The UK government recognises that there may be BN(O)s who cannot wait for the new route to open next year, so has confirmed that in exceptional cases such people may be able to seek Leave Outside the Rules when landing in the UK. However, it is strongly recommended that people use a valid immigration route where possible and seek advice in advance where necessary.
Our immigration team is available to advise on current immigration options for BN(O)s as well as the proposed new visa route from next year.