The British government on Wednesday outlined its pathway to citizenship for almost 3 million Hong Kong residents, in response to Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law on the city.
Hongkongers with British National (Overseas) passports and their immediate dependants would have the right to apply for a special visa from January 2021, Home Secretary Priti Patel said, calling the offer “very generous”.
While Patel called the national security law a breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, undermining “one country, two systems”, Beijing and the Hong Kong government have threatened to stop recognising the passport as a valid travel document, condemning London’s move as intervening in the city’s domestic affairs.
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Some Hongkongers have welcomed the plan, seeing it as a lifeboat, especially for those who have taken part in last year’s anti-government protests. Crucially, however, there is no mention of how the special visa will affect people convicted only of offences related to the recent demonstrations in Hong Kong.
The British Consulate in Hong Kong confirmed to the Post: “it is not part of the policy statement.”
BN(O) passports were issued to Hongkongers born before the 1997 handover, and under current rules, holders can visit Britain for up to six months, but the documents do not automatically allow them to work or live there.
This article outlines the key questions potential applicants need to know.
How does the visa provide a pathway to citizenship?
The new Hong Kong BN(O) Visa will allow BN(O) holders to live and work or study in Britain, with a pathway to settlement and then citizenship.
From January 2021, BN(O) passport holders together with their dependents, including their children, and even other adult dependents can apply for “leave to remain” in Britain for a period of five years – either two periods of 30 months or a single period of five years. The Home Office said it would be “more cost effective” to apply for the latter.
Upon five years, they can apply to settle in Britain, and for citizenship after a further 12 months.
Who is eligible for the new special visa?
BN(O) citizens with their immediate family dependants, including spouse, civil or unmarried partner and children aged under 18, and even other adult dependents in some “exceptional” circumstances will be eligible. Dependants need not have BN(O) status themselves to be eligible.
There are 2.9 million Hongkongers eligible for the status.
Applicants must use a valid or expired BN(O) passport to show their BN(O) citizen status. For those who do not have the passport, they will be able to use their HKSAR passport to arrive in Britain, where border officers will look at records to check their status.
They must provide proof of residence in Hong Kong and a tuberculosis (TB) test certificate, show a commitment to learn English, and be demonstrably able to support themselves financially for at least six months.
They will also have to pass criminal checks and have no serious convictions.
Migration consultants expect the new visa to be popular among young Hongkongers born in the 1990s, who might not be eligible for migration programmes in other countries.
“For those people whose dream is to migrate to the UK but are not qualified to go for the Tier 1 visa [for “high-value” migrants such as talents and investors], this is a possible path for them,” said Willis Fu Yiu-wai, marketing director and senior immigration consultant of Goldmax Associates.
Are assets and a job needed for the special visa?
Applicants do not need to be employed before arriving in Britain, and there is no minimum asset required. The British government will not impose skills tests, economic needs tests or place caps on numbers.
They will have access to the National Health Service, while children of BN(O) visa holders will also have access to public education.
However, the passport holders must be able to support themselves financially for at least six months and will not qualify for welfare benefits.
Fu warned the current economic situation, especially in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic – which has left nearly 300,000 sick in the country with more than 45,500 deaths – was something to consider when moving there. The number of people claiming out-of-work benefits in Britain more than doubled to 2.6 million in June.
“My advice to people who wish to migrate to the UK, especially young people, is to be mentally prepared for the worst-case scenario, in which they do not have a job for a long period of time, and may need to survive on their savings without income,” Fu said.
Those who do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings need to consider how they will support themselves for six years in total, he added.
How does the application process work?
Hongkongers should fill out a form online when applications open next January.
The British government has said applicants should keep their valid or expired BN(O) passports as evidence of BN(O) status. If the passport is lost, eligibility checks can be made using historical records.
BN(O) passport holder status will be converted to a new digital “Hong Kong BN(O) visa”.
The fee for the visa application has not yet been announced, but the fee for “leave to remain” is currently £2,389 (US$3,035), while adult citizenship costs £1,206 (US$1,532).
BN(O) citizens already in Britain on another form of leave will be able to apply and switch to the special visa from within the country from January.
Who is not included in the scheme? What can they do if they would like to move to Britain?
No one born after July 1, 1997 is entitled to a BN(O) passport. It is not possible to apply for this status now.
However, the British government said it understood there would be cases of children of BN(O) holders who were born after 1997, and are over 18, and so would not normally be considered as dependants.
For this group, British authorities would have discretion to grant a visa in “compassionate and compelling circumstances” to children who were born in 1997 or later, and are older than 18, if they are part of a family unit.
Alternatively, they could apply for the existing youth mobility scheme, which is open to people in Hong Kong and other regions aged between 18 and 30, with 1,000 places currently available each year.
Another route is the updated points-based system, which will enable individuals to come to Britain with a wider range of professions and at a lower general salary threshold than in the past.
While immediate family dependants are included in the new visa scheme, dependent grandparents or other relatives will not be eligible if they are not BN(O) citizens in their own right.
What if you want to enter Britain before the application for the visa is available in January 2021?
The British government said it was also open to accepting those needing to travel before that day and not eligible under existing immigration routes.
Border Force Officers may be able to consider granting ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ at the British border for a period of six months to BN(O) passport holders and their accompanying dependants. They will need to show their BN(O) status, proof of residence in Hong Kong, have no serious criminal convictions and be demonstrably able to support themselves financially for at least six months.
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More from South China Morning Post:
- Beijing threatens to stop recognising Hong Kong BN(O) passports in retaliation for British offer to city residents
- Britain unveils details of citizenship offer for Hongkongers with BN(O) passports
This article National security law: how Hong Kong BN(O) passport holders can apply for Britain’s special visa first appeared on South China Morning Post