Following the announcement by PM Boris Johnson on 4th June 2020 that the UK would offer a new route to British citizenship to millions of Hong Kong residents who hold British Nationality Overseas passports (for more information on BNO passports, please click here), the Home Office has officially confirmed that these BNO citizens will be able to apply to come to the UK to work and live from January 2021.
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?
According to the Home Office’s policy and guidance which are published today, 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.
Possibility of entering before the BNO visa route is available
If a person is not eligible to enter the UK under an existing immigration route, Border Force Officers may be able to consider granting ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ at the UK border for a period of 6 months to them and their accompanying dependants.
As a person with ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ the applicant and their dependants can:
- get public funds
- use the NHS for free (except for free emergency services)
To be considered, they will need to show:
- their identity (through official documentation)
- their BN(O) citizen status
- that they normally live in Hong Kong
- that they can accommodate support themselves financially in the UK
They will also need to show evidence of any non-BNO dependants’ family links to them. A dependant is any of the following:
- spouse or civil partner
- unmarried partner who they have been living with in a relationship similar to a marriage or civil partnership for at least 2 years
- child (under the age of 18 when they first applied)
- other family members where they can show there is a high level of dependency
Proving Hong Kong residence
To be eligible for ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ they must usually live in Hong Kong. Evidence of residence may be one of the following:
- a Hong Kong identity card
- a letter from an employer or education provider confirming your employment or study in Hong Kong
- a Hong Kong medical card
- a voter’s card
- a visa or residence permit or other immigration documents
- an educational record, for example a school report
- a letter from the local council or a government department in Hong Kong
- tax records
- records of rent or mortgage payments
Proving you can support yourself financially
People can show this with:
- bank statements that show savings
- evidence of regular income that will continue whilst in the UK, such as salary, investment or pension payments
- investment details
- receipt of educational grants from overseas
- an offer of employment in UK
- income of a partner, spouse or other family member to which you have access, for example parental funding or a spouse’s salary earned through lawful working in the UK
- an offer of accommodation from family or friends
This is clearly a brilliant news to millions of BNO passport holders in Hong Kong (or currently reside in the UK). It provides a new route for them to migrant to the UK. In the meantime, it may effectively reduce the potential pressure of the domestic labour shortage following the Brexit.
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