The UK Government has published a policy statement on the new Hong Kong BN(O) Visa route for Hong Kong residents with British National (Overseas) status and their immediate family members, including non-BN(O) citizens. This new migration route to the UK is set to open in January 2021 and will be part of the UK Government’s new immigration system.
The introduction of this immigration route comes after China passed a new national security law for Hong Kong, which has been seen by governments and media world-wide as eroding Hong Kong’s democratic rule. The new immigration route is part of a number of measures which the UK Government is taking in response to the actions of Mainland China. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had previously stated that the new national security law was a “clear and serious breach” of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration which transferred control of Hong Kong to China. On Monday, the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, suspended the UK’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The new national security law comes after mass protests in Hong Kong throughout 2019, which initially saw the bill withdrawn last September.
The publication of the policy statement follows the Government’s 1 July pledge to offer Hong Kong residents the chance to settle in the UK, after China was seen to be encroaching on Hong Kong’s independence as a Special Administrative Region under the ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement. The 50-year agreement was intended to protect the civil liberties – also referred to as Hong Kong’s Basic Law – of residents, including the right to protest, freedom of speech and the independence of the judiciary. The new legislation effectively criminalises what would previously have been considered free speech.
To be eligible for the new visa route, applicants must demonstrate the following:
- They have BN(O) status (although having a valid BN(O) passport is not necessary)
- They normally live in Hong Kong
- They can accommodate and support themselves financially in the UK for at least 6 months (those on the visa route are not entitled to access public funds)
- They can show a commitment to learn English, where appropriate
The Home Office have initially stated that ‘close family members’ for the purposes of this route refers to:
- A spouse or civil partner
- An unmarried partner
- Children (under the age of 18 when they first apply)
The policy also states that visas will be granted on a discretionary basis to adult dependent children of BN(O) citizens who were born after 1997 (so are not BN(O) citizens themselves) but who are over the age of 18 (and so would not normally be considered a dependant).
Although the route is set to open in January 2021, BN(O) citizens can currently come to the UK as visitors without a visa for up to 6 months. However, doing so does not allow you to work, reside or study in the UK.
BN(O) status and Hong Kong
During the ten years prior to the handover of Hong Kong by the British to China, those in Hong Kong with British Dependent Territories citizenship were entitled to apply for BN(O) status under the Hong Kong Act 1985 and Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986. Some 3.4 million people registered for this status, of which it is thought around 2.9 million are still alive. BN(O) status is not hereditary and could not be retrospectively applied for after the deadline passed.
The Government is expected to unveil the new Immigration Rules for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa in the Autumn.
Gherson has extensive experience in all aspects of UK asylum, immigration and nationality law, as well as human rights and extradition matters. Should you require any advice or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.
The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please don’t hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.