What is BN(O) status?
People in Hong Kong who held British Dependant Territories citizenship were eligible to register as BN(O)s during the 10 year period before the UK handed Hong Kong back to China on 1 July 1997. It is not possible to apply for BN(O) status now. Around 3.4 million people were given BN(O) status and it is estimated that around 2.9 million are still alive.
BN(O) status gives an entitlement to consular assistance and protection from UK diplomatic posts. But it does not give any right of abode in the UK and BN(O) holders are still subject to immigration control. They are limited to visits of up to six months without a visa. This will change from January 2021, when a new visa route will open.
Who is eligible for the new visa?
To qualify for the new Hong Kong BN(O) visa you must hold BN(O) status but there is no requirement for a current BN(O) passport. You can submit an expired BN(O) passport as evidence of status, or if lost, HM Passport Office can check records. You must also be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong. This includes those currently in the UK but who are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong.
You can bring your partner and children under the age of 18 as your dependants. Dependant children over 18, born after 1 July 1997, will also be able to apply if they are still dependant and you apply as family unit.
Each applicant will need to provide a TB test certificate from an approved test centre and demonstrate you have sufficient funds to maintain yourself for six months. There is no English language requirement for the initial application.
How are applications made?
The application will be made online. It is expected that the process will be similar to that used for the EU Settlement Scheme, with no need to send hard copy documents and a digital status being issued, rather than a hard copy visa or biometric residence permit.
BN(O)s will need to submit facial biometrics and any dependants who are not BN(O)s themselves will also need to provide fingerprints.
How much will it cost?
There will be an option to apply for an initial 2.5 year visa, which can be renewed, or to apply for a five year visa at the outset. Application fees will be payable, with the cost to be confirmed in the autumn.
You will also need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), which is increasing in October to £624 per person per year of the visa, or £470 for children.
What happens next?
Once you are in the UK you will be able to work (employed or self-employed) or study. You will not have recourse to public funds, but as you will have paid the IHS you will be able to use the NHS.
The expectation is that after five years you would apply for indefinite leave to remain and then a year later you would be eligible to apply for naturalisation as a British citizen, subject to the usual rules and fees. For example the English language requirement and Life in the UK test would still apply.
Can I come to the UK this year?
The new visa route will not open until January. The Home Office has said that if you are already in the UK with another visa expiring before that, or if you need to travel before January, you should use other visa routes and then apply to switch to the new visa later. For example if you are under the age of 30, a youth mobility visa would be an option.
It is only if there is no other possible visa route for you and you need to come to the UK urgently, that the Home Office will consider granting you entry at the border with six months’ leave outside the Immigration Rules, rather than as a visitor. You would need to ensure you have all the appropriate documentation with you to present to the entry clearance officer.
If you would like further advice on your options and a potential application for the new BN(O) visa, then please contact a member of our Immigration Team.
This article is from the July 2020 issue of Employment and Immigration Law Update, our monthly newsletter for HR professionals. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. For further information please contact Clare Hedges or another member of Birketts' Immigration Team.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at July 2020.