The new UK immigration rules, enabling residence with permission to work and study for British National (Overseas) citizens who are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong, opened to applicants on 31 January 2021.
Who can apply?
The primary applicant must be a British National (Overseas) citizen pursuant to the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986.
This “BNO” nationality status was created for individuals with British Dependent Territory citizenship by virtue of a connection with Hong Kong prior to the removal of Hong Kong from the list of dependent territories on 1 July 1997, the date of handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China pursuant to the 1884 Sino-British agreement and the Hong Kong Act 1985.
In line with most categories of the UK Immigration Rules, dependent partners (spouse or unmarried) can apply along with dependent children under the age of 18. In exceptional circumstances, other family members with a high degree of dependency may also apply.
In a departure from other schemes of entry to the UK for long-term stay, the scheme includes a “Household Member” route for adult children of a BNO citizen, born on or after 1 July 1997. As the term implies, the BNO Household Member and any dependent partner or child applying under the route must form part of the same household as the BNO citizen.
The process of applying follows the normal procedures for applying under the Immigration Rules, with focus on digital applications and biometrics. Applicants from overseas must be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong at the date of applying and must obtain entry-clearance before travelling.
An application to “switch” into this immigration category can be made by qualifying applicants who already have permission to stay in the UK in another substantive immigration category.
There is an overarching requirement for applicants and their qualifying dependents and household members to have sufficient resources to adequately maintain and accommodate themselves for at least six months after arrival.
Length of Stay and Settlement
Initial applicants can apply for either 5 years or 30 months.
An application for Indefinite Leave to Remain (Settlement) may be submitted after 5 years continuous residence. After a further 12 months in the UK, an application may be made to naturalise as a British citizen.
This scheme was introduced following the imposition of draconian new security laws in Hong Kong last year. The UK government sees the new laws as an affront to the democratic freedoms guaranteed for the Special Administrative Region and contained within the Sino-British agreement.
The authorities in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have responded with hostility to the British initiative. The government in Beijing has indicated that it will not recognise the BNO passport and threatened “further action” as retaliation for a “blatant interference” in China’s internal affairs.
Measures that have been mooted in the media include removal of PRC citizenship from BNO passport holders, thereby stripping them of their Right of Abode in Hong Kong, as well as barring BNO s from holding public office.
The offer contained within the new UK immigration route applies to 2.9 million people residing in Hong Kong before 1997 when the colony returned to China, as well as an estimated 2.3 million dependent family and household members. The UK authorities anticipate more than 300,000 will take up the offer over the next five years.