Co-Authoured by Chris Harber and Jess Clough
On 31st January 2021, applications opened for a new UK visa route called the Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) visa (“BN (O) visa”).
Hong Kong was a British Dependant Territory overseas for many years. Control was returned to China on 1 July 1997. In the return agreement, China promised to protect the existing rights and freedoms of the citizens of Hong Kong. Following China’s tightening of its restrictions of the rights of citizens in Hong Kong in the last couple of years, the UK government announced in July 2020 that it would be creating a new visa type to allow those Hong Kong residents with British National Overseas status and their close family members to come to live and work in the UK.
Hong Kong citizens who hold the status of British Nationals Overseas citizenship already have the right to visit the UK for up to six months without a visa, but they do not have the right to work or take up long-term study while doing so, and they have no free access to Healthcare or public funds.
However, those eligible to apply under the new visa route will be able to come to the UK with their families to work and live for either 30 months or five years (depending on the migrant’s choice). They will have the right to use the NHS, however as per the other main visa categories, BN (O) visa holders will not be able to claim public funds (e.g welfare benefits) whilst they are in the UK under this category.
For those BN (O) citizens who are eligible and already living and working or studying in the UK, for example they are being sponsored by an employer or university, they can switch from their current sponsored visa to the BN (O) visa from within the UK (i.e. they do not have to travel back to Hong Kong).
One of the key benefits of this new visa allows the migrant to hold a visa in their own right – they will not need to be tied to a specific sponsoring employer. As such, there are no restrictions on the type of work BN (O) visa holders can do, and no salary thresholds to meet.
Another benefit of this route is that it allows the visa holder to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (permanent residency) after completing five years’ lawful residency in the UK and then citizenship one year later. For BN (O) nationals already living in the UK the five year period can be reached by combining years spent in the UK under other eligible routes and BN(O) route provided the latter is the more recent grant of leave at the time of the settlement application. For example, if they have already been sponsored under the Tier 2 (General) category in the UK for three years, they will only need two further years of residence in the UK after obtaining the BN (O) visa in order to fulfil the five year length of residence requirement in order to be eligible to apply for ILR.
The generosity of this route is also supported by the fact that there is no English language requirement under the BN(O) route, regardless of if you are applying from within the UK or abroad.
Chris Harber and Jess Clough would be pleased to offer assistance to anyone who would like to apply under this new route. If you would like to apply yourself or if you have employees in your business who may benefit from this new route please contact Chris at [email protected] or Jess at [email protected].
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.