Written by Isabelle Cooper
What is it?
On January 31st 2021, the UK launched a scheme providing Hong Kong (HK) residents who have British National Overseas (BN(O)) citizenship a route to full British citizenship[i]. Eligible parties can apply for a 2.5/5-year BN(O) visa. Afterwards, they can apply for ‘indefinite leave to remain’ and then full British citizenship.
Initially, BN(O) citizenship only afforded the privilege of travelling to the UK for up to six months without a visa. But it did not give the right to live or work in the UK. The new scheme offers visa holders these previously undesignated rights. Namely, the right to study, attend school (if under 18) and have access to the NHS. Unfortunately, visa holders will be unable to access public funds (e.g. welfare benefits)[iii].
An estimated 3 million Hong Kong citizens and their dependents will be eligible to take advantage of this scheme. However, only 300,000 people[iv] are estimated to acquire a BN(O) visa within the first five years.
The BN(O) visa scheme is a response to the new controversial national security legalisation imposed on Hong Kong by the central Chinese government. This marks the culmination of increasing Chinese political imposition upon HK. The scheme provides an opportunity for BN(O) citizens to flee HK and resettle in the UK.
The UK is particularly invested in the political climate of Hong Kong due to their 150 years of colonial rule and their role in upholding the Sino-British Joint Declaration agreement[v]. This agreement, which the UK claims China has breached, details on Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty. Moreover, under this internationally binding treaty HK would remain semi-autonomous until 2047 and enjoy a level of political freedom incomparable to that of the mainland. This principle is known as ‘one country, two systems’[vi]. However, increasing Chinese imposition upon HK has arguably breached this agreement. Consequently, the UK has been compelled to act.
This new security law, which bypassed HK approval, allows for the criminalisation of HK secession, terrorism and subversion against the Chinese government[vii]. For decades HK activists and citizens have protested against increasing Chinese imposition. Recent pro-democracy protests starting in 2019 challenged a proposed extradition law which would allow for crimes committed in HK to be tried in Chinese courts[viii].
Who is eligible?
Those who are from HK and are a British national (overseas), along with their family members, are eligible to apply for the BN(O) visa.
How to apply?[ix]
From outside the UK:
You can apply online at: https://visas-immigration.service.gov.uk/country-selection.
To prove your identity, you can visit a visa application centre in person. Alternatively, from 23rd February 2021, if you have a BN(O)HK Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), or EEA e-passport, you will be able to use a smartphone app.
From within the UK (permanent resident of UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man or HK):
You must make an appointment at the UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services to provide your documents and prove your identity in person.
You will need to provide[x]:
- valid passport or other identity that shows your identity and nationality.
- Firstly, proof of permanence residence in HK, the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man.
- Secondly, proof you have enough money to support yourself and your family for six months.
- Thirdly, proof of your relationship with your family members (If you are applying with them).
- Finally, a tuberculosis (TB) test certificate.
Decisions take approximately two weeks.
For more information see the gov.uk website at https://www.gov.uk/british-national-overseas-bno-visa
How much does it cost?[xi]
Overall, applicants must pay the visa application fee, healthcare surcharge (to access the NHS), and prove they can financially support themselves and their family for at least six months in the UK.
Visa Application Fee (for each applicant)
- £180 if you’re applying for 2 years and 6 months
- £250 if you’re applying for 5 years
- Other: £19.20 to have fingerprints and a photo (biometric information) taken
- For each adult (18 or older) it costs:
- £1,560 if you’re staying for 2 years and 6 months
- £3,120 if you’re staying for 5 years
- For each child (under 18), it costs:
- £1,175 if you’re staying for 2 years and 6 months
- £2,350 if you’re staying for 5 years
Although there are alternative routes to settling in the UK, such as claiming asylum and Tier 1/2/4 visas, the BN(O) scheme offers a much more expeditious and expedient route to settled status and eventually citizenship.
We hope it is a source of hope for Hongkongers who are looking for somewhere else to call home and we look forward to welcoming them into the UK.
[i] British National (Overseas) visa, 2021, gov.uk, viewed 05/02/2021, https://www.gov.uk/british-national-overseas-bno-visa
[ii] Hong Kong Act 1985, 1985, HM Government, viewed 05/02/2021, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1985/15/data.htm
[vii] Reuters, 2020, China passes security law for Hong Kong giving Beijing sweeping powers-Cable TV, viewed 05/02/2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-hongkong-security/chinas-parliament-passes-national-security-law-for-hong-kong-cable-tv-says-idUSKBN241061
[viii] BBC, 2019, Hong Kong-China extradition plans explained, viewed 05/02/2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-47810723
[x] British National (Overseas) visa, 2021, gov.uk, viewed 05/02/2021, https://www.gov.uk/british-national-overseas-bno-visa
February 8,2021 at 1:20 pm