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Further details of new UK visa route for Hong Kongers

04 August 2020

From January 2021, the UK will make a new visa route available for British Nationals (Overseas) and their dependants who are usually resident in Hong Kong. The route will lead to settlement after five years’ residence in the UK, with the option to apply for British citizenship becoming available for most participants after a further year.

Also, immediate arrangements have been put in place to allow eligible applicants to come to the UK ahead of the implementation of the route, with a view to them applying inside the UK after it is launched.

The UK Government published further details of the arrangements via a policy statement on 22 July 2020, and detailed Immigration Rules are due to be made public in the Autumn.

Requirements for the Hong Kong BN(O) visa

The main applicant must be a British National (Overseas) (BN(O)). They will not be required to hold a BN(O) passport. If the main applicant does not have a valid or expired BN(O) passport, their citizenship status can be checked using the British government’s historical records.

The main applicant and each dependant will also need to submit an online application and:

  • Show they normally live in Hong Kong (or already be living in the UK with immigration permission)
  • Show they can support and accommodate themselves at least six months
  • Confirm a commitment to learning English – it is not yet clear how this will work but we anticipate that applicants will either need to demonstrate their existing English language proficiency is above a certain threshold or agree to take particular steps to learn English within a certain time period
  • Have a valid test certificate from a UK-government authorised doctor confirming they are free of tuberculosis
  • Record their biometric data – it is proposed to do this using an app for the main applicant, however dependants will need to enrol their fingerprints at an application centre
  • Pay an immigration application fee, the amount of which is not yet confirmed
  • Pay the immigration health surcharge

It will be possible to make applications either in the UK or abroad. Successful applicants will receive a digital visa.

Dependants

Eligible dependants include the main applicant’s:

  • Spouse or civil partner
  • Unmarried partner with whom they have lived as partners for at least two years
  • Child aged under 18 when they first apply under the route
  • Other family members where a high level of dependency is shown

Length and conditions of stay

Main applicants can choose to apply for a stay of 30-months with a 30-month extension, or one stay of five years. Dependants will have their visas issued for the same length as the main applicant.

Holders will be entitled to work and study in the UK but like other individuals with limited stay, will not be allowed to access most publicly-funded benefits. They will be eligible to use the National Health Service and state education.

Settlement

Settlement will be available after five years’ continuous residence, which means that absences from the UK must not be more than 180 days in any 12-month period. Applicants will also need to show they have complied with the terms of their visa and have not breached criminality thresholds. They will also need to demonstrate a knowledge of the English language and having passed a Life in the UK test.

Settled status may be lost after a continuous absence from the UK of two years, however an application may be made to reinstate it if certain circumstances apply.

Citizenship

An application British citizenship will become possible for adults at least one year after they have been granted settled status. The criteria differ depending on whether the adult is a BN(O) or holder of another nationality, but broadly they will need to meet absences requirements, criminality requirements, and demonstrate a knowledge of the English language and having passed a Life in the UK test. Child dependants may become eligible to register as a British citizen either at the same time or, if born in the UK, at the point one of their parents become settled. The requirements for children to register as a British citizen depend on the basis of their application so specific advice should be sought on a case-by-case basis.

Indicative fees

The indicative fee information below is based on current fee levels, which are subject to periodic change. The table does not cover all scenarios and excludes other related charges, such as for tuberculosis testing, English language testing and services payable to application centre providers.

Application type

 Application fee

Biometric enrolment fee 

Immigration Health Surcharge 

BN(O) visa

 To be advised – overall cost of five year visa is expected to be less than two 30 month visas 

£19.20 per applicant, per application

 

£624 per adult per year

£470 per child under 18 per year

Settlement

 £2,389 per applicant

£19.20 per applicant

Not applicable

Citizenship

 

 

£1,206 per adult BN(O) applicant

£1,330 for a non-BN(O) adult applying for naturalisation

£1,012 per child applicant (plus £80 citizenship ceremony fee if the child turns 18 during consideration)

£19.20 per applicant

Not applicable

 

Arrival before implementation of the new route

Before the new route is implemented, BN(O)s and their dependants can apply at the UK border for leave outside the Immigration Rules. This is a new arrangement announced on 22 July 2020 and will allow entry with an entitlement to work or study for six months.

All members of a family unit should travel together to use this option.

An application of this type will need to be well-documented, including providing:

  • Evidence of identity, eg through the passport they travelled on
  • Evidence of BN(O) citizenship, if possible (however Border Force can check most historical records if necessary)
  • Evidence of normally living in Hong Kong, eg through Hong Kong ID card or medical card, voter’s card, Hong Kong immigration documents, evidence of employment or studies in Hong Kong etc
  • Evidence of the ability to support and accommodate themselves in the UK for at least six months, eg through bank or investment statements, evidence of regular income that will continue for at least six months, job offer, offer of accommodation from family or friends etc
  • Evidence of dependants’ relationship to the BN(O), including marriage/civil partnership/birth certificates, evidence of living together for at least two years in the case of unmarried partners, and evidence of dependency for dependants other than partners or children under 18

Individuals who choose to enter the UK under leave granted outside the Rules will not be allowed to access most public benefits and will not have free access to the National Health Service (unless a specific charging exemption applies to them). Therefore, full health insurance will normally be needed, covering the full period of stay until permission is granted under the BN(O) visa route.

Alternatively, BN(O)s and their dependants can continue to apply to come to the UK under existing immigration routes. We would advise caution however around seeking to enter the UK as a visitor as this requires an intention not to stay in the UK long-term. Also, in most cases dependants other than a partner or child under 18 will have no other option than to seek entry outside the Rules.

If you have any queries about the arrangements or would like assistance with making an application, please contact Kathryn Weaver, Lily Shen, Naomi Hanrahan-Soar or Li Xiang.   

 

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