By now it is likely that you have heard of the exciting British National Overseas (BNO) Visa, which offers a fresh route to British citizenship to millions of Hong Kong residents who hold British Nationality Overseas passports.
The visa will open to apply to from 31 January 2021, and we are here to help anyone who has questions regarding these applications.
For now, let’s remind ourselves what this visa route involves and how the government has updated its guidance in relation to possible delays relating to coronavirus.
What does the BNO visa offer?
Firstly, people are able to apply for this route from outside or inside the UK. It will allow people to apply to enter or remain in the UK for an initial period of 30 months, extendable by a further 30 months, or a single period of 5 years.
People on the BNO visa will be able to work and study, but they will not be able to access public funds such as social welfare benefits.
Crucially, people on the visa will be able to apply to settle in the UK (also called ‘indefinite leave to remain’) once they have lived here for 5 years. After 12 months with this status they can go on to apply for British citizenship. This will be very appealing to many BNO passport holders and their family members.
Who is eligible and how can they prove it?
Eligible candidates for this role will need to show the following:
- they have BN(O) status – they do not need a valid BN(O) passport to show this and do not need to request a new passport if it’s expired or has been lost
- they normally live in Hong Kong or currently reside in the UK
- they can accommodate and support themselves financially in the UK for at least 6 months
- they show a commitment to learn English, where appropriate
- they get a tuberculosis (TB) test certificate from a clinic approved by the Home Office (find more information on this here)
- they pay a fee and the immigration health surcharge (fee is yet to be established)
- they have no serious criminal convictions, have not otherwise engaged in behaviour which the UK Government deems not conducive to the public good, and not be subject to other general grounds for refusal set out in the Immigration Rules.
BN(O) citizens’ immediate family dependants, comprising spouse or partner and children aged under 18, will also be eligible to apply for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa. They do not need to have BN(O) status themselves to be eligible.
There will be cases where the dependent children of a BN(O) citizen will not normally be eligible because they were born after 1997 (so are not BN(O) citizens) and are over 18 so would not ordinarily be considered as a dependant in the UK’s immigration system.
In compelling and compassionate circumstances, the Home Office will therefore use discretion to grant a visa to the children of a BN(O) citizen who fall into this category and who are still dependent on the BN(O) citizen. This discretion will be limited to children of BN(O) citizens who apply together with their parents as a family unit.
How can applicants prove they can accommodate and maintain themselves?
Applicants must show that they can accommodate and maintain themselves and dependent family members and provide financial support for themselves and their family members for at least 6 months in the UK.
They can show this through:
- money in their bank account
- income they get from a current job in the UK (including self-employment)
- any other income they get (for example from renting out a property)
- offers of support or accommodation from friends or family
They will need to provide evidence such as:
- bank statements
- letters from friends or family with evidence they have the money to support them and their family members
These documents must be in English, or in the original language with a certified English translation.
More information on what documents are needed will be on the application form available from 31 January 2021.
Applicants will not need to meet this requirement if they have been living in the UK for more than a year when they apply.
British nationals (overseas) who are already in the UK
If applicants are already in the UK, they can apply for the BNO visa from within the UK from 31st January 2021. They can also apply from within the UK if they were granted ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ at the UK border when they arrived.
If their existing immigration leave expires before 31st January 2021 and they want to stay in the UK before applying for the BNO visa, there are a number of options open to them:
- extend their existing immigration leave
- switch into another immigration route – they can submit an application form from within the UK where they would usually need to apply for a visa from their home country
- re-enter the UK after leaving – at the border they may be eligible to be granted ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ as a British national (overseas) as set out above
- apply for ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ from within the UK for up to 6 months
They will need to meet the requirements of the route they are applying for and pay any application fee that applies.
Applying for ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ from within the UK
Applicants can apply for ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ for a period of up to 6 months.
Once they have applied, they can stay in the UK on the terms of their existing immigration leave until their application is decided.
They will need to pay the ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ application fee.
They will also need to pay the immigration health surcharge.
Possible delays due to COVID-19
Due to coronavirus (COVID-19), the Home Office has announced that it may take longer than normal for applications to be processed. If a decision has not been made on ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ applications before the BNO visa opens for applications in January 2021, the Home Office has promised refunds of any fees or charges that applicants have paid.
Applicants that have made a valid application for ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ from within the UK and are eligible to apply for the BNO visa should receive an email by 14 February 2021 from the Home Office.
This email will tell applicants:
- their options around applying for the BNO visa
- how to get a refund if they choose to apply for the BNO visa
Applicants can apply for a refund before or after they apply for the BNO visa. They will need to make their BNO visa application within 12 weeks of receiving their refund, after which their application for ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ will be invalid and they will not have permission to stay in the UK.
To be considered for ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ in the UK, applicants need to show:
- their identity
- their British national (overseas) status
- that they normally live in Hong Kong or the UK
- that they are currently residing in the UK
- that they can accommodate and support themselves financially in the UK
They will also need to show evidence of any non-British national (overseas) dependants’ family links to them, and that the applicant and the family member are currently together. A dependant is any of the following:
- spouse or civil partner
- unmarried partner
- child (under the age of 18 when they first applied)
- adult child born on or after 1 July 1997 (and their partner or child under the age of 18) who normally lives with you
- other family members in exceptional circumstances where there is a high level of dependency who normally live with the applicant
Applicants will need to pay the following fee and each of their family members will need to pay the fee too:
- £180 to apply to stay for 30 months
- £250 to apply to stay for 5 years
Immigration Health Surcharge
Applicants need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) in full when they apply for the BNO visa.
For each adult this will be:
- £1,560 if they are applying to stay for 30 months
- £3,120 if they are applying to stay for 5 years
For each child under the age of 18, this will be:
- £1,175 if applying to stay for 30 months
- £2,350 if applying to stay for 5 years
Applicants can start using the National Health Service (NHS) when:
- they have paid the IHS
- their visa or immigration application is granted
What do we think?
Since the announcement of this new BNO Visa route, we have been optimistic about it. For millions of BNO passport holders in Hong Kong (or currently residing in the UK), it provides a new route for them to migrate to the UK and eventually settle here. Also, it may effectively reduce the potential pressure of the domestic labour shortage following Brexit, which is a major concern in some industries at the moment.
We also feel like the refund scheme in case of delays in reasonable and offers an element of security for applicants, with the window of 12 weeks to reapply after receiving the refund being ample time for most applicants to get it done.
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