IN THIS ARTICLE

In 1997, the British Government transferred the authority of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. This created new political, economic, and social realities for the Hong Kong people. It also resulted in the creation of a new nationality known as British (National) Overseas status for those interested in maintaining ties with the United Kingdom after imperial rule. In 2020, the British Government created the British National (Overseas) Visa. Individuals with British National (Overseas) status may want to come to the United Kingdom to work, study, and live.

The article will provide an overview of the British National (Overseas) immigration route in the United Kingdom for those with the right of abode. It will explain the background and context in which the British National (Overseas) Visa was created by the Home Office, as well as outline which eligibility and requirements for this immigration route. It will then describe the application process for the British National (Overseas) Visa and necessary supporting documentation for applicants. Finally, this article will answer commonly asked questions from British National (Overseas) individuals seeking to build a life in the United Kingdom.

 

What is British National (Overseas)?

A British National (Overseas), also known as BNO, is a category of British nationality for individuals who live in Hong Kong. Individuals who were British overseas territories citizens with an enduring connection to Hong Kong before 01 July 1997 were able to register for British National (Overseas) status. Individuals who were born in Hong Kong after 1 July 1997 were not eligible to register for BNO status as this was a limited-time offer for registration and maintenance of ties with the United Kingdom after the British handover of Hong Kong. As a result, there are a finite number of individuals in Hong Kong with BNO status. Individuals with BNO status do not necessarily have to possess a British National (Overseas) passport, but there is a special passport available for those with BNO status.

 

Why was the BNO Visa route created?

In 1997, the British and Chinese Governments signed a document called the Sino-British Joint Declaration. This document stated that, in exchange for the United Kingdom turning over control of Hong Kong, the Chinese Government would adhere to a number of commitments to the Hong Kong people despite significant differences between mainland China and the special administrative region. These differences included areas such as the economy, politics, and human rights commitments. The Chinese Government agreed to respect the binding commitments made in the Declaration for at least 50 years. Both Governments signed the Declaration in good faith and with the assumption that Hong Kong would undergo slow and incremental changes over decades under the ‘one country, two systems’ doctrine. However, the Chinese Government has attempted to play an increasingly dominant role in Hong Kong politics in the 21st century.

The British National (Overseas) Visa route was created in the context of the mass protests in Hong Kong. From 2019 to 2020, the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement brought about mass demonstrations numbering in the hundreds of thousands throughout Hong Kong over the role of the Chinese Government within the special administrative region. The extensive and violent crackdown of protestors brought about conversations across the world regarding civil and human rights obligations owed to the people of Hong Kong after 156 years of British imperial rule and influence. As a result of these debates, the British Government created a bespoke immigration route intended for Hong Kongers who no longer felt safe at home due to perceived threats to their way of life by the Chinese Government.

 

What is the BNO Visa?

The British National (Overseas) Visa route is a bespoke immigration route for individuals primarily residing in Hong Kong with British National (Overseas) status. It provides the right to live, work, and study in the United Kingdom for up to 5 years at a time. In general, individuals with a BNO Visa cannot access public funds, also known as benefits. After living in the United Kingdom for 5 years, BNO Visa holders can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, also known as permanent residence or settlement. After receiving Indefinite Leave to Remain and holding this status for at least 12 months, British Nationals (Overseas) may be eligible to apply for naturalisation as British citizens. The BNO Visa route is a helpful option for individuals seeking to leave Hong Kong either temporarily or permanently to build a life in the United Kingdom.

 

Who is eligible for the BNO Visa?

The most important eligibility criteria to apply for a British National (Overseas) Visa is that applicants must hold British National (Overseas) status through their enduring and registered connection with the United Kingdom. However, you are not required to possess a valid BNO passport. You must also be at least 18 years old. You can bring your eligible family members with you to the United Kingdom and they must apply with you on your application form.

You must also meet the residency eligibility criteria. If you are applying from outside the United Kingdom, British National (Overseas) Visa applicants must have a permanent home in Hong Kong at the point of application. If you are applying from within the United Kingdom, British National (Overseas) Visa applicants must have a permanent home in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands.

 

How do I apply for the BNO Visa route?

Before applying for the BNO Visa route, you must ensure that you meet all eligibility requirements. If you are from Hong Kong but do not currently hold British National (Overseas) status, you will not be granted a BNO Visa unless you are the spouse, partner, or child of a person with BNO status.

Next, you will need to collect all relevant supporting documentation that will be required for your application. You will need to provide documents such as the following:

  • Your British National (Overseas) passport or passport photocopy, valid or expired – please note that you are not required to possess a British National (Overseas) passport to apply for the BNO Visa route, but your application will take longer to process if you do not provide this document
  • Tuberculosis (TB) screening certificate – this is not required if you are applying from within the United Kingdom
  • Evidence of sufficient funds to support you and your family while in the United Kingdom
  • Evidence of your enduring connection and residence with Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands – this can include documents such as utility bills, bank statements, payslips, employment letters, and medical letters
  • Evidence of relationships with your family members, such as marriage certificates and birth certificates

 

You will need to provide all documents in English. If the original documents are not in English, you will need to obtain official English translations alongside the original documents.

Once you have collected all supporting documentation, you can fill out the online application form for the BNO Visa. You will need to select the correct form depending on whether you are applying from within or outside the United Kingdom. At the end of the online application form, you will need to pay the application fee and Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) fee in full for each family member. After paying these fees, the online application form is submitted to the Home Office.

As the final step of your BNO Visa application, you will need to provide biometrics (your fingerprints and a photograph) as well as upload your supporting documentation. You can upload all supporting documentation online or opt to pay for it to be scanned and uploaded by a third party processing company at an in-person biometrics appointment. You can choose to provide biometrics via the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ mobile phone application or book an in-person appointment at a local visa service centre. If you choose to attend an in-person appointment at a local visa service centre, your passport and supporting documents may be retained by the Home Office until a decision is made on your application. Once you have submitted all supporting documentation and provided biometrics to UK Visas and Immigration, your application will be sent to the Home Office for processing.

 

How much does it cost to apply for the BNO Visa route?

As part of your British National (Overseas) Visa application, you will need to pay the visa application fee as well as the UK Immigration Health Surcharge. You will also need to provide evidence that you can support yourself and all dependent family members whilst in the United Kingdom without needing to rely on benefits.

The non-refundable application fee for the British National (Overseas) Visa is charged per person and depends on the length of time you want to live in the United Kingdom on the BNO Visa:

  • If you want to stay in the United Kingdom for 2.5 years – £180 per person
  • If you want to stay in the United Kingdom for 5 years – £250 per person

The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) fee allows you to access the world-class National Health Service (NHS) whilst living in the United Kingdom. Depending on where you live in the United Kingdom, you may still be required to pay for dental care, eye tests, and some prescription medication. The IHS fee is charged based on the length of time you seek to live in the United Kingdom and your age. It must be paid in full at the point of submitting your online application:

  • If you are a child under the age of 18 and want to stay in the United Kingdom for 2.5 years: £1,175 per child
  • If you are a child under the age of 18 and want to stay in the United Kingdom for 5 years: £2,350 per child
  • If you are an adult over the age of 18 and want to stay in the United Kingdom for 2.5 years: £1,560 per adult
  • If you are an adult over the age of 18 and want to stay in the United Kingdom for 5 years: £3,120 per adult

Finally, you will additionally need to provide evidence that you can support yourself and all dependent family members whilst in the United Kingdom without needing to rely on benefits. The amount of money required will depend on the number of people in your family coming to the United Kingdom. Please note that you will not be required to demonstrate evidence of savings if you are applying from within the United Kingdom and have lived here for at least 12 months unless you have been in the United Kingdom on a Youth Mobility Visa. The following amounts are examples based on different family arrangements:

  • If you are coming to the United Kingdom as a single adult: £2,000 in savings
  • If you are coming to the United Kingdom as an adult couple with 1 minor child: £3,100 in savings
  • If you are coming to the United Kingdom as a couple with 3 minor children: £4,600 in savings
  • If you are coming to the United Kingdom as an adult couple with 2 elderly parents and 2 adult children: £9,200 in savings
  • To demonstrate receipt of these funds, you can provide evidence of savings in several ways including the following:
  • You can provide evidence of your savings and income, as well as the savings and income of your family members
  • You can provide evidence of income you will earn in your current job in the United Kingdom, if you are applying within the United Kingdom
  • You can provide evidence of income you will earn if you are transferring to a job in the United Kingdom with a current employer, if you are applying outside the United Kingdom
  • You can provide evidence of financial assistance offered by family and friends

 

How long will my BNO Visa application take to process?

Regardless of whether you submitted your BNO Visa application inside the United Kingdom or outside the United Kingdom, UK Visas and Immigration will attempt to process your application and provide a decision within 12 weeks. If you attended a UKVCAS service point to provide biometrics, the 12-week deadline begins from the date of your appointment. If you provided biometrics via the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ mobile phone application, the 12-week deadline begins from the date you submitted the online BNO Visa application. If you applied within the United Kingdom, you must stay in the country until you receive a decision on your application.

However, in certain situations, UK Visas and Immigration will not be able to provide the 12-week processing turnaround time. It may take longer if one of the following applies to you:

  • If you have a prior criminal conviction for a criminal offence that is recognised in the United Kingdom
  • If you need to provide more supporting documents or your supporting documents must be verified by the Home Office
  • If you need to attend a credibility interview with the Home Office
  • If you did not provide a valid tuberculosis screening certificate
  • If you do not provide a valid or expired British National (Overseas) passport as part of your supporting documentation

If you applied with family members, please note that you may not all receive a decision on your application(s) at the same time. This is not cause for alarm, so you should wait to receive decisions on all members of your family before coming to the United Kingdom together as a family.

 

BNO Visa FAQs

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Legal disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

Author

Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing & Content Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

Legal disclaimer

 

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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