Moving to the UK from Hong Kong – a guide for British National (Overseas) citizens and their families

The UK Government has announced an unprecedented and unique new immigration route for British National (Overseas) citizens. Our immigration experts have compiled this brief guide to answer some of the most pressing questions arising from this policy.

30 July 2020

On 22 July 2020, the UK Government announced an unprecedented and unique new immigration route for British National (Overseas) citizens. An estimated 2.9 million BN(O) citizens and their immediate family members can now make a new life for themselves and their family in the UK through this newly-created opportunity.

Since the announcement, our international families team has been receiving enquiries from BN(O) citizens looking to find out more about the details behind the UK Government’s headline announcement.

We hope our brief guide will answer some of the general questions that are being asked in respect of this new route. For individual queries, please contact a member of our international families team to arrange a client consultation, at which we can provide tailored advice and support in relation to your own individual and unique situation.

1. Who holds British National (Overseas) citizen status?

British National (Overseas) status is a special status that was created as a result of the 1985 Hong Kong Act. This class of nationality was awarded to people from Hong Kong who applied for it prior to 1997, when sovereignty of Hong Kong was handed to the People’s Republic of China. Under the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986, British Dependent Territories Citizens (BDTCs as they were then known), who had a status exclusively through a connection with Hong Kong, were entitled to be registered as BN(O)s and to hold a BN(O) passport.

This status, which is unique to people from Hong Kong, was introduced to address the fact that BDTCs would lose that status when Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule on 1 July 1997.

2. Can I apply for BN(O) citizen status now?

No, Hong Kong citizens had a period of 10 years prior to the handover of the former British Overseas Territory to China on 1 July 1997 during which they could apply to become BN(O) citizens. Any BDCTs from Hong Kong who did not apply for BN(O) status during that period lost their British nationality altogether.

3. Can I transmit my BN(O) status to my children?

No, the status cannot be transmitted to the next generation. However, children of BN(O) holders can come to the UK under the new visa route (see further below) as dependants of either one or both of their parents.

4. What are the requirements of the new visa route announced by the UK Government?

The UK Government has stated that there will be no skills test, minimum income requirements or job offer requirements. In addition to holding BN(O) status, applicants and their dependants will require to meet the following requirements:

  • be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong (this includes those who are currently in the UK but who are ordinarily resident Hong Kong);
  • be able to demonstrate their ability to accommodate and support themselves in the UK for at least six months;
  • demonstrate a commitment to learn the English language, where appropriate;
  • hold a current tuberculosis test certificate from a clinic approved by the Home Office;
  • pay a Home Office fee; and
  • not have been convicted of any serious crime.

5. Is there an English Language requirement?

No, there is no English language requirement in respect of the initial visa. Those who do not speak English can enter the UK via this route. However, there will be an English language requirement for those who wish to live permanently in the UK. Those who hold this new visa will be able to apply for settlement (the right to live permanently in the UK) once they have lived in the UK for a continuous period of five years. At the “settlement” stage, holders will have to pass an English language test and prove that they have supported themselves financially and not been convicted of any serious crime.

6. I am a British National (Overseas) Citizens but my passport has expired, can I still apply?

Yes, you can still apply. A valid Hong Kong BN(O) passport is not required. However, a valid passport is required to prove your nationality. This can be any applicable passport. An expired BN(O) passport can be used as evidence of BN(O) status. For those who do not have an expired passport, the Home Office has said it may be able to check its own records to establish the individual’s status. For further details see this visa policy statement.

7. My child is 19 years old, can they come to the UK as my dependant?

BN(O) holders will automatically be entitled to bring their children to the UK as their dependants, as long as their children are under the age of 18. Children aged over 18 will only be granted a visa at the discretion of the Home Office where “compelling and compassionate” circumstances exist. The Home Office has acknowledged that it “does not wish to split family units” and will exercise discretion in applications involving children of BN(O) citizens who were born after 1 July 1997. Children falling into this category will be able to apply as dependants, if one of their parents holds BN(O) status and they apply together as a family unit.

8. When can I apply for the new visa?

Applicants will be able to apply for the new visa when the route opens in January 2021. An application can be made either inside or outside the UK.

9. I do not want to wait until the route opens, can I come to the UK as a visitor?

Yes, a BN(O) citizen can come to the UK as a visitor for up to to six months without a visa and can then apply at the border for Leave to Remain Outside the Rules. Those interested in pursuing this option are strongly advised to obtain legal advice.

10. How much will the visa cost?

The Home Office has not disclosed how much the visa will cost. However, it has confirmed that the fee for obtaining permanent status will be £2,389 and that citizenship costs will be £1,206 per applicant.

11. What rights and status will I have in the UK?

The new visa route will provide holders with the right to work (including self-employment) in the UK. Visa holders will also be able to study and to access the National Health Service (NHS), however they will have to pay the NHS Surcharge (see further details below). Visa holders will not be entitled to receive benefits and will be responsible for their own accommodation and maintenance. They will also have to pay taxes and national insurance on their UK earnings.

12. What access rights will my children have to UK education?

Child dependants have the following entitlements:

  • access to free education at state schools for children under 18;
  • access to free education and training for young people aged 16-19; and
  • the ability to apply for higher education courses.

For those interested in accessing private education for their children, we can refer clients to specialist education consultants.

13. How can I become a British citizen?

BN(O) status holders can register to become a British citizen. To do so they must first obtain indefinite leave to remain status and then hold this status for a minimum period of 12 months. This 12-month period is waived for those who are married to British citizens. In addition to this “lawful residence” period, applicants must also meet the rules on the number of permissible absences allowed in any year and, throughout the period, comply with the Good Character Rules.

14. How can Shepherd and Wedderburn assist with my application?

We have 20 years’ experience of helping individuals and families navigate their way through the UK’s immigration rules and procedures. We can provide bespoke packages dealing with all aspects of the visa process for you and your family members. Our team has helped hundreds of international families complete their immigration journeys to the UK, from initial entry to all family members holding a full British passport.

15. Why should I choose Shepherd and Wedderburn to help with my visa?

We know that relocating in a different country can be a daunting process for families. We are also aware that each individual and family will have their own unique set of concerns and requirements. If you choose to instruct us, you will have the benefit of working with our international families’ team, which means you will have a one-stop service to cover all your legal needs. From obtaining your visa and purchasing your first UK home to protecting your assets (both UK and overseas) and setting up a business in the UK, our specialist lawyers are on hand to support you.

In addition to our extensive legal expertise, we can also refer you to our network of professional contacts, which includes international tax advisers, charity fund managers, education and placing consultants, property and letting advisors and wealth managers.