In this article on ‘What is The Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Visa’, we will cover these following points:

Overview

The UK Government published a new visa scheme for British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) citizens and their family members provided that they are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong in a policy statement on 22nd July 2020. This new visa system proposal derives after China imposed a comprehensive new security law in Hong Kong and it will create a new tailored immigration route for British nationals (overseas) (BN(O) citizens). This policy announcement sets out in what way the new Hong Kong BN(O) Visa will function.

The policy statement published today has important sections of information as follows:

  • This visa route will be open from January 2021
  • The BN(O) citizens currently in the UK on a different category of leave who may wish to apply for the Hong Kong BN(O) visa will be able to apply and switch to this visa from within the UK.
  • BN(O) citizens and accompanying dependants may be able to consider granting “Leave Outside the Rules” at the UK border for 6 months if they arrive before January 2021.

In case, a leave of British national (overseas) national in the UK is expiring before the Hong Kong BN(O) visa is available, however, they will need to discover an alternate way to prolong it in line with the rules of their existing leave and then apply for this new scheme. Additional details will be available soon including for individuals on a visa without a provision for extension of leave.

This visa will be valid for up to 5 years when the holder is subject to UK immigration control, and after 5 years they will be able to apply for settled status as long as they have supported themselves financially, remained free of criminality, and abide by the terms of the visa. After a further year’s stay, they may apply for naturalisation as a British citizen. The policy statement provides additional details on eligibility criteria, visa conditions and entitlements, and the application process. Immigration fees will be payable at each stage and it will be a form of provisional residence that visa status is obtained and upheld following the rules.

Eligibility for ‘The Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Visa’

Main applicant

The main applicant should be a BN(O) citizen and this instantaneously rules out anyone born after 31st December 1997. There will be no prerequisite for applicants to apply for or hold a valid BN(O) passport and successful applicants will be able to travel on a valid Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Passport. Though, valid or expired BN(O) passports should be kept and submitted with an application as evidence of BN(O) status. Where a BN(O) passport has been lost, suitability checks can be made using previous records held by Her Majesty’s Passport Office.

Family members

Spouses, partners, and children under the age of 18 will be able to live in the UK and apply for visas as dependants with the main applicant.
In cases, where children over the age of 18 or so will not normally be eligible and if they are born after 1997, so they would not be considered as dependants in the UK Immigration system. Hence, in compassionate and compelling conditions, they will use discretion to grant a visa to the children of BN(O) citizens who will fall into this category and who are still dependant on the BN(O). They will limit the discretion ordinarily to the children who were born after the 1st July 1997 and will apply as dependants, if one parent holds BN(O) status and they will apply as a family unit.
In exceptional situations of high dependency, other adult dependants of a BN(O) citizen applying for the visa may also be eligible at the discretion of the UK Government, and it will be considered on a case to case basis. If this doesn’t apply, then the Hong Kong people aged between 18-30 for them the existing youth mobility scheme is open, with 1000 places currently available each year. Individuals from Hong Kong will also be able to apply to come to the UK under the new UK Point Based System.

Ordinary residence in Hong Kong

The main applicant BNO and their dependants must be “ordinarily resident in Hong Kong”. This includes BNOs currently in the UK who are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong.

Maintenance requirements

The policy statement says that applicants must ‘establish their ability to accommodate and support themselves in the UK for at least 6 months’.
We would probably require to wait for the Immigration Rules to be available to know in case of any precise level of funds required under this visa route.

English language requirement

At the initial stage, applicants need to demonstrate ‘commitment to learning English in the UK where appropriate’. There is no specific English language requirement to be met.

Individuals will need to meet specific English language requirements as they will require good knowledge of English at a later date if they wish to settle in the UK after five years for settled status (indefinite leave to remain).

Tuberculosis test requirement

Individuals will need to hold a tuberculosis test certificate from a clinic approved by the UK Home Office.

Criminality

The criminality and other character checks will be implemented, and those with severe criminal convictions, those who have engaged in behaviour that is not conductive to the communal good or those who are liable for refusal on general grounds set out in the Immigration rules, will have their applications refused.

Conditions and entitlements

The visa period grant for BN(O) citizens and their dependants will consist of an initial period of 30 months leave, with further extension by a second charged application for another 30 months to hold a total of five years residence. Otherwise, an individual will be able to apply for a 5 years leave from the onset, upon payment of a higher fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge for the said duration, and applying for a long 5 years period leave is possible to be more lucrative overall.

Settlement

After completion of 5 years residence period in the UK, the applicant and their dependants can apply for Indefinite leave to remain, as known as under this policy ‘settled status’ or settlement. The applicants should fulfill the continuous residence period requirement that they must have spent no more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12 months period during these 5 years qualifying period, be able to speak English and not fall foul of the criminality/character requirements.

They will be able to apply for or become British citizens a year later provided that they meet all the requirements.

Work and study

The main applicant and their family members if desired be able to work on an employment or self-employment basis. They will also be able to study at any level and children can be enrolled at either a public school or an independent school.

Access to public funds

The BN(O) nationals or visa holders will not have access to public funds like the majority of other visa holders.

Application process

The applications will be made through a new digital process similar to the provisions under the EU Settlement Scheme and the majority of the applications can be completed online without the need to send any physical documents by post or to be interviewed. The policy statement confirms that applications will be able to be made from within the UK from January 2021 as well as from outside.

All the applicants will be required to provide biometric data. The BN(O) nationals will not be required to submit fingerprint biometrics but non-BN(O) nationals or their dependants requires to provide fingerprint biometrics and the BN(O) citizens will have to provide just facial biometrics as part of the application process.

Further, all the successful applicants will be issued with a digital visa.

Border arrivals

As mentioned earlier, this new visa will be open from January 2021, however, the Border Force Officers will be able to grant Leave Outside the Rules for six months to BN(O) citizens and their dependents upon arrival in the UK. This is provided that they are not eligible for entry under any of the other immigration rules.

Whereas a BN(O) passport is not required, a number of significant requirements will need to be met to acquire Leave outside the rules at the border control. This comprises that they can show the applicant and any family members, are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong and can accommodate and support themselves for their initial period in the UK and are not liable for refusal grounds as set out in Immigration rules.

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