In 1997, the United Kingdom passed their reign of Hong Kong to China, however, before doing so the British National Overseas (BNO) passport was established to protect Hong Kong residents. Originally, BNO passport holders had limited freedom when visiting the United Kingdom, including maximum stays of six months without the right to work. More recently, China has increased their security measures which pressured the United Kingdom into extending rights for Hong Kong residents.
From 31st January 2021, China will no longer accept a BNO passport as a valid form of a travel document or proof of identity. Although BNO passport holders will no longer satisfy immigration clearance in China, Hong Kong residents may still travel to mainland China using their Hong Kong passport or identity card. Many citizens from Hong Kong have dual nationality and therefore have another option available.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ready to welcome Hong Kong residents into the United Kingdom with open arms. As the BNO passport does equate to British Citizenship, those wishing to settle in the United Kingdom can do so via the 5 year route settlement route. The new system put in place from 31st January 2021 allows BNO citizens and their families to apply to live and work in the United Kingdom.
The BNO visa application process
Both BNO and Hong Kong residents are eligible to apply for the BNO visa which grants the right to live, work and study in the United Kingdom.
Firstly, those with BNO passports can apply for this visa if they are over the age of 18 and have their permanent residence in either Hong Kong or the United Kingdom. The length of the visa will either be for 2½ years or 5 years. There is no limit to extending this visa. After residing 5 years in the United Kingdom on the BNO visa, one will be entitled to apply for indefinite leave to remain, in other words, settlement. Once settlement status has been obtained, one has the right to apply for British Citizenship.
A BNO is also entitled to include their close family members on their BNO visa application. Close family members are those deemed to be your dependents. These include spouses, civil partners, unmarried partners, children, and grandchildren under the age of eighteen. Close family members may also include parents, grandparents, siblings, and children over 18 who reside with the applicant and depend on their care. If a child is 18 or over, born on or after 1 July 1997, they and their partner or underage child may all be classed as close family members. All family members must make separate applications as the applicant’s dependent at the time when the BNO applies.
There are costs involved with making a BNO visa application. Firstly, the visa application fee must be paid, this will either be £180 for a 2½ year visa or £250 for applications for a 5 visa. In addition, a £19.20 biometric information charge is applicable as all applicants must have their fingerprints and photo taken once an application has been submitted. Furthermore, it is important that applicants pay the NHS healthcare surcharge prior to submitting the visa application. This amount is currently set at £1,560 for 2½ year visas or £3,120 for 5 year visas for each adult applying. For children, the healthcare charge is slightly reduced to £1,175 and £2,350 respectively.
Applicants will also need to show they have sufficient funds to support themselves and their dependents for a minimum of 6 months or that they will be earning sufficient funds to do so. This is usually evidenced by the applicant’s and dependent’s bank statements, payslips, and savings account. Sometimes, offers of financial help from family or friends will also be accepted. The minimum amount required starts at £2,000 for a single adult and increases depending on how many dependents the applicant is applying with.
It is necessary to provide adequate evidence of one’s current residence, finances, relationship with family members, and potentially a tuberculosis test certificate. Once a BNO visa has been granted, the applicant and their accepted close family members have the right to live, work, and study in the United Kingdom, however, are not entitled to access the majority of public funds.
Applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain/Settlement
Once one has been residing in the United Kingdom for 5 years on the BNO visa, one is entitled to apply for indefinite leave to remain. It is possible to include time spent in the United Kingdom on a different visa as well, however, this excludes time spent on the Student visa or Youth Mobility Scheme visa.
To satisfy the requirements of applying for settlement, the applicant must not have spent more than 180 days outside the United Kingdom in any 12 months in the preceding 5 years. Additionally, one must meet the English language requirements as well as pass the Life in the UK Test. It is not necessary to pay the NHS healthcare surcharge for settlement applications, however, an application fee must be paid.
Applying for British Citizenship
Once indefinite leave to remain has been granted, one can apply for British citizenship after 12 months of having indefinite leave to remain. In order to successfully apply for citizenship, one must be over 18 years of age, provide evidence of residence in the United Kingdom exactly 5 years prior to submitting the application, have passed the life in the UK test and English language requirements as well as being of good character. One must not have spent more than 450 days out of the 5 years outside of the United Kingdom, nor more than 90 days within the preceding 12 months in order to fulfil the requirements. The application fee is £1,330 per person and £19,20 for biometric information to be taken. One may also apply for their children, and the application fee would be £1,012 and £80.00 for a citizenship ceremony once they attain the age of 18.
How Audley Chaucer can assist
Audley Chaucer has an excellent Immigration team who can assist with your application. Our experts will guide you at each step of the process and can advise on the available visa routes, assist in drafting and submitting all immigration applications as well as handling appeal matters.