National Security Law and British Nationals (Overseas) offered Citizenship by the UK
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The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, last year promised to change our immigration rules. This is to reflect a developing need to grant British national (overseas), BN(O), route to British citizenship and to allow them to live and work in the UK. This is a direct result of China’s threat to impose its National Security Law on the region. The changes to the UK’s immigration rules are designed to ensure the safety and security of British national (overseas) citizens wishing to leave Hong Kong for the UK.
Who is a BNO citizen?
British national (overseas) is a type of British nationality with limited rights. BNO was granted to British Dependent Territories citizens who were Hong Kong residents before 1 July 1997. BNO passports were first issued in 1987. Individuals could register for a BNO passport until 30 June 1997. After the handover, on 1 July 1997, Chinese nationals living in Hong Kong were eligible for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport also commonly referred to as “HKSAR”.
Having a BNO passport does not automatically make a person a British citizen. Holders of BNO status are subject to immigration control when entering the United Kingdom and do not have the automatic right to work and study.
What rights did BNO’s have in the UK?
Those with a BNO passport were able to enter the UK for a visit of up to six months only. If travelling to other countries, holders of BNO status are eligible to obtain British Consular protection. An important point to note is that, at present, BN(O)’s are subject to UK immigration control. They do not have the automatic right of abode nor do BNO’s have the right to work in the UK. They are required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge to access our NHS when residing in the UK for longer than six months.
The Big Change
The Prime Minister’s announcement last year was “one of the biggest changes to the British immigration system”. He proposed to offer a right to live and work in the UK to Hong Kong citizens eligible for a British national (overseas) passport if China imposes its National Security Law.
China sought to impose a duty on the Hong Kong government to pass laws prohibiting the rights of free speech and fundamental freedoms. In 2003, the Hong Kong government did attempt to enact the law in relation to national security, however, over 500,000 people protested against this legislation on 1 July 2003. Recent events have shown again the wealth of feeling against what are regarded as anti-democratic measures.
British National (Overseas) visa – an overview
The UK formally opened its doors to BN(O) status holders on 31 January 2021 via the British National Overseas visa route. The BNO visa allows BN(O) nationals and their family members to live, work and study in the UK. The main applicant and their eligible family members must apply to come to the UK at the same time. Failure to do so will mean that family members will not be able to apply later under the route.
Applicants are eligible to apply to stay in the UK for thirty months or five years. Applications can be made from outside the UK or from within the UK. There is no cap at present as to how many times the applicant may extend their visa in the UK. After successfully living in the UK for five years under this visa, the applicant will be eligible to apply for settlement, followed by British citizenship after a further twelve months (provided the applicant is able to satisfy the requirements for these applications as per the Immigration Rules at the time).
As expected, this visa also comes with a fee and Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). The application fee for a thirty-month visa is £180.00, and for a five-year visa, the fee is £250.00. The applicant is also expected to pay £19.20 to have their biometrics enrolled as part of the application process.
The IHS is currently set at two different rates covering adults (age 18) and children (under 18).
For adults, the IHS is set at £1560.00 if applying for a thirty-month visa and £3120.00 if applying for a five-year visa. For children, the IHS is set at £1175 if applying for a thirty-month visa, and, £2350 if applying for a five-year visa.
As well as many other specified requirements under this visa route, the applicant will also need to show they have enough money to pay for their housing and to support themselves and their family for six months; however, if the applicant has been living in the UK for twelve months or more then the applicant is exempt from this financial requirement.
Although the current proposition is applicable to those with BN(O) status and those who are eligible for BN(O) status, this does not mean that those individuals living in Hong Kong who are not BNO’s cannot come to the UK. There are many immigration routes available for residents of Hong Kong in the UK’s existing immigration rules.
If you would like to discuss coming to live in the UK please do contact our immigration team. Our highly experienced immigration team are able to guide you at every stage of your application to ensure a successful application is submitted on your behalf.