Highlights on the generous visa route for BN(O) citizens come January 2021

24 July 2020

The Government has announced the introduction of a new visa route for British National (Overseas) citizens and their families from January 2021. The ‘Hong Kong BN(O) Visa’ will enable applicants to live, work and study in the UK, although they will not be able to access public funds.

While full details of the visa route will not be added to the Immigration Rules until later in the year, the policy statement issued by the Home Secretary clearly spells out the UK’s very generous approach to BNO citizens, in order to protect the freedoms which are now at risk in Hong Kong.

Here are the key highlights:

1. Applicants can apply from outside or inside the UK

Those who are in the UK will be allowed to switch to the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa from within the UK. Notwithstanding there is a requirement that the BN(O) applicants must usually live in Hong Kong, this is welcome news for those currently in the UK who may be able to switch into this route without having to return to Hong Kong. We will need to wait for further clarification on this.


2. Apply for a 30 month or five year visa

Applicants can choose to apply for leave to enter or remain in the UK for either 30 months which can be extended by a further 30 months, or apply for a five year visa. The fee for the initial visa and any renewal will be announced at a later date. The five year visa will undoubtedly attract a higher fee. Just like many existing visa routes, an Immigration Health Surcharge will be payable for the duration of the duration of the leave.

Having spent five years living in the UK, applicants will be able to acquire indefinite leave to remain. There is no mention in the published policy about absences from the UK to qualify for indefinite leave to remain but one can expect this to be applied in one way or another.

There is also no indication as to whether applicants would be able to count previous time spent on another UK visa towards the five years for indefinite leave to remain, particularly if a person currently in the UK switches to the Hong Kong BN(O) visa.


3. The road to Citizenship

Similar to the position for many applicants, after having held indefinite leave to remain status in the UK for 12 months, those who applied under the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa will be eligible to apply for British citizenship. They will have to meet the usual eligibility criteria and pay the application fee.


4. No need to renew BN(O) passport if expired

In order to be eligible, applicants must have BN(O) status. However, a valid BN(O) passport is not required. Applicants can use an expired BN(O) passport to evidence their BN(O) status. If the BN(O) passport is lost, the Home Office may be able to look at the applicant’s records to confirm their status. This is revolutionary in UK immigration terms as it means that the Home Office are prepared to seek confirmation from the Passport Office, which does not often happen.


5. BN(O) citizens could enter the UK now under ‘Leave Outside the Rules’

If BN(O) citizens enter the UK before the Hong Kong BN(O) visa is introduced in January 2021, and they are not eligible to enter the UK under an existing immigration route, they and their dependants may be granted six months ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ at the UK border. However, this will be discretionary.

Applicants will be required to produce the evidence (some listed below) to support their case, as well as why they are not able to apply for another visa type. This seems quite onerous for anyone who has just got off a long-haul flight who would then be required to submit their case on arrival to seek entry for ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ but may be a useful option for those who wish to leave Hong Kong as soon as possible with limited other options. We will need to wait for further policy guidance to provide more clarity in how this would be assessed.


6. Dependents can apply

Given that BN(O) status cannot be passed by descent to children - if a person was unaware of the scheme, or was not able to apply in-time or were born on or after 1 July 1997, any obligation the UK had would fall away. As such, the current proposal in allowing dependents to join the BN(O) applicant on the visa route is a significant development and a clear declaration of the UK’s generous stance to perhaps rectify their colonial obligation to Hong Kong.

Dependents would include immediate family dependents, such as a spouse, partner and children under 18. In cases where dependent children are over 18 and are not themselves BN(O) citizens (if they were born after 1 July 1997), they may be granted a discretionary visa on the basis that they apply with a BN(O) parent as a family unit. Similarly, adults with a high level of dependency on a BN(O) citizen may be eligible to apply for the visa at the government’s discretion.


7. The evidential requirements are simple

There is no English test or minimum income requirement. Applicants can demonstrate that they meet the eligibility criteria in the following ways (please note that this is not an exhaustive list):

  • They hold BN(O) status – evidence can include expired passports, and the BN(O) citizen’s relationship with their dependents (such as a marriage certificate for a spouse, proof of two years cohabitation for a partner or birth certificate for children).
  • They usually live in Hong Kong – for example, they have a Hong Kong identity card, letter from an employer, medical card, school report or tax record.
  • They can accommodate themselves in the UK – this may be an offer of accommodation from a friend or family member.
  • They can support themselves financially for at least 6 months – they may rely on bank statements of savings, investment details, a UK employment offer, income from a family member.
  • Have a TB test certificate showing they are free of TB.
  • Have paid the Immigration Health Surcharge.


Further Information

For further information on an issues raised in this blog, please contact a member of our Immigration team.

About the Authors

Katie Newbury is a senior associate in the immigration team at Kingsley Napley.  She has experience across a wide spectrum of UK immigration matters. Her particular expertise includes applications made under Tier 1 of the Points Based System, complex personal immigration matters, as well as the immigration implications of international surrogacy and adoption.

Eleanor Lynch is a trainee solicitor in the Immigration team, where she assists both corporate and private clients with their UK immigration matters.

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