Millions eligible for new
Hong Kong BNO visa

On 31 January 2021, the UK will open a new bespoke immigration route which will allow British National Overseas (BNO) citizens from Hong Kong to start a new life in the UK and eventually apply for citizenship.

The Hong Kong BNO visa route was developed by the UK government to protect the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents following China’s introduction of a controversial new security law in the region.

The BNO visa will grant successful applicants the right to live, work and study in the UK for up to five years. After five years’ continuous residence, BNO visa holders will be able to apply for settlement in the UK, and then apply for British citizenship following a further period of 12 months’ settlement.

The new route is open to BNO citizens and their dependants who are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong, the UK or the Crown Dependencies. A total of 2.9 million people hold BNO status and are therefore eligible to apply for the visa. An additional 2.5 million people are also eligible to apply as dependant family members of a BNO citizen. This means that in theory, 5.4 million people could be granted permission to come to the UK through the new route. However, it is estimated that only around 300,000 people will take up the offer over the next five years.

Who can apply for a BNO visa?

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to Chinese control in 1997. British National (Overseas) status is a class of British nationality created for Hong Kong residents as part of the handover agreement. Residents who successfully applied for the status in the ten-year period leading up to the handover were issued with a British passport displaying their BNO status.

Citizens holding BNO status and members of their household will be eligible to apply for the BNO visa. Applicants and their dependants must also:

  • Be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong, the UK, or the Crown Dependencies
  • Be able to accommodate and support themselves in the UK for at least six months
  • Demonstrate a commitment to learning English in the UK where appropriate
  • Hold a current tuberculosis test from a Home Office approved clinic
  • Have no serious criminal convictions or other grounds for refusal under the UK Immigration Rules

Dependant grandparents or other relatives may not be eligible unless they hold BNO status in their own right. BNO citizens who are already in the UK on another form of leave will be able to apply to switch onto a BNO visa from 31 January 2020.

The application process

Applications will be submitted via a digital online process, meaning applications can be made from Hong Kong, the UK or elsewhere. In most cases, applicants will not need to send in physical documents or attend an interview.

Biometric data is required for all applications. BNOs will be able to provide facial biometrics digitally and will not need to provide fingerprints. However, dependants who do not hold BNO status themselves will be required to provide fingerprints.

Applicants will not need to apply for or hold a valid BNO passport in order to apply for a BNO visa. However, valid or expired BNO passports should be kept and submitted with the application to evidence BNO status.

If you are applying as a family unit, you must apply together. The main applicant who is a BNO citizen should apply first and obtain their unique reference number, which dependant family members will then need to quote in their subsequent applications.

How much does it cost?

You are required to pay certain immigration fees when applying for a BNO visa and if you later decide to apply for settlement and British citizenship. The fees you can expect to pay are as follows:

  • Visa application fee – The application fee for a BNO visa is £180 for 30 months (2 ½ years) or £250 for 5 years
  • Immigration Health Surcharge – The fee migrants must pay to access healthcare in the UK. From 27 October 2020, this is £624 per person per year, or £470 for students and under 18s
  • Settlement – If after five years you decide to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, the cost to apply is currently £2,389 plus a £19.20 biometrics enrolment fee
  • Citizenship – Nationality registration as a British citizen currently costs £1,330 for adults (which includes the £80 citizenship ceremony fee) and £1,012 for children

Help with applying for a BNO visa

If you are interested in applying for a BNO visa and need some assistance with the application process, Smith Stone Walters can help.

Our team of immigration experts are based in global offices, including Hong Kong and London, and will be happy to guide you through the entire process.

To speak to a member of the team, please contact us today.

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