Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa and exceptional entry options

A special UK visa for those with British National Overseas (BNO) status in Hong Kong will be available from January 2021.

Eligibility requirements include the following:

  • Applicants must be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong;
  • They must demonstrate that they can maintain and accommodate themselves for at least 6 months;
  • They must demonstrate a commitment to learn English;
  • They must have a certificate confirming they are free from TB; and
  • They must not have serious criminal convictions.

Applicants will not need to be sponsored or to meet minimum income requirements to be eligible. They will be able to bring immediate family members with them, including dependant children who are over 18 and do not themselves hold BNO status.

The visa will be valid for an initial period of 2.5 years with the possibility to extend. Alternatively, applicants will have the option of paying a higher fee for a 5-year visa. There will be a visa application fee but the Home Office has not yet confirmed the amount.

If the applicant applies for a 5-year visa, they would also have to pay for the Immigration Health Surcharge as a lump sum for the whole 5-year period as part of that application. The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) is currently £400 per year of visa duration. In October 2020, it is due to rise to £624 per year of visa duration for adults and £470 per year of visa duration for children.

They will have the right to work and study in the UK. If they satisfy the requirements for settlement in the UK, they will be able to do so after 5 years. If they satisfy the requirements for citizenship, they will be able to apply one year after obtaining settlement.

There is no way to apply for the BNO visa before the route opens in January 2021. However, the Home Office has stated that for those BNO citizens and their dependants who wish to travel sooner, Border Force Officers will be able to consider granting leave outside the immigration rules, at the UK Border, for a period of 6 months.

In effect, they could travel to the UK, but instead of entering as visitors, they might be granted exceptional entry for 6 months. The implication in the relevant Home Office policy statement is that those who gain exceptional entry in this way would be able to switch to the BNO visa from within the UK, once the route officially opens in January.

At the UK border, to gain the exceptional leave to enter outside the immigration rules, they should show the following:

  • BNO status – note that a BNO passport is not required as Border Force Officers can check status on their databases;
  • That they are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong;
  • Evidence of family links of any accompanying dependants;
  • The ability to accommodate and support themselves in the UK; and
  • That they have no serious criminal convictions.

Please get in touch with Samar Shams, Immigration and Global Mobility Partner, for advice on the BNO visa or entry before January 2021.

This article was first published on 23 July 2020 and was edited on 27 July 2020 to include information on the option of applying for a 5-year BNO visa.

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