On 31 January 2021, the UK opened its doors to Hong Kong residents with British National Overseas status, looking to escape Hong Kong’s increasingly draconian laws. Boris Johnson proved he can in fact keep a promise and made good on his commitment back in June 2020 to allow the estimated 2.9 million BNO residents to apply for UK visas. This followed the passing of harsh new national security laws in Hong Kong. As we explain below, the BNO visa requirements and conditions are favourable compared to many alternative visa routes.
Key requirements and evidence for a BNO visa
British national overseas
First and foremost, you need to hold the status of British National Overseas and be over 18 years old. Family members can come on dependency visas, as explained below.
Residence in Hong Kong
If you are applying from outside of the UK, then you will need to show that you are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong at the date of application.
If you are already in the UK in some other immigration route, then you will need to show you are ordinarily resident in the UK.
Unless you have already been living in the UK for at least 12 months, you will need to show you have sufficient funds to support you and any family members, as well as adequate accommodation. It is possible to rely on support from a third-party.
You will need to provide a TB test certificate if you have been living in Hong Kong for the previous six months, or in certain circumstances where you have been living in the UK.
There are strict ‘suitability’ rules which relate mostly to previous criminal or immigration offending, as well as the use of deception or making false representations in a previous application. Issues such as previous non-payment of NHS fees or Home Office litigation costs can also be a basis of refusal.
It is estimated that 2.3 dependants are eligible to apply as dependants.
Spouses and partners are eligible to apply as dependants. If you are unmarried then you will need to have lived together in a relationship like a marriage for at least two years prior to applying. The partner must form part of the same family household as the BNO holder. You will need to show that your relationship is ‘genuine and subsisting’. You should provide evidence of previous cohabitation.
Children and grandchildren of the BNO holder can also apply as dependants. They will need to form part of the same household as the BNO holder. If only one of the parents is applying for a visa then, unless the other parent is dead, this becomes slightly more complicated. The parent will need to show he or she has ‘sole responsibility’ for the child’s upbringing or that there are ‘serious and compelling reasons’ to grant the visa. These provisions are interpreted strictly. We strongly advise you seek immigration advice if relying on either of these provisions.
Normally in UK visa applications, only children under the age of 18 can apply as dependants. However, under the BNO route, the children of BNO parents born after 1 July 1997, who did not register as BNO can apply as dependants if they form part of the same household as their parents (or if they are away from home studying).
In addition, dependant partners or children of such a household member can also apply under this route.
In certain circumstances, it may be possible for an adult dependant relative of the BNO holder to apply for a dependant’s visa. The relationship covers parents, grandparents, siblings and adult children (those not part of the family household). These applications have strict rules and are notoriously difficult to succeed with. Immigration advice should be sought if applying as an adult dependant relative.
Those granted leave ‘outside the rules’
Some with BNO status arrived in the UK prior to the BNO visa scheme launch in January 2021. These individuals will usually have been granted temporary leave to remain ‘outside the rules’. Such people can now switch into the BNO visa category from within the UK.
Path to settlement
Those who enter the UK on a BNO visa can qualify for settlement (permanent residence) after five years in this category. Under the BNO visa route, time spent on other routes to settlement can count towards the five years required for BNO settlement (this does not include time spent as a student or Youth Mobility Scheme).
You will need to pay a visa fee and an Immigration Health Surcharge in respect of each applicant. These fees will vary depending on the duration of the initial visa that you apply for and whether you are an adult or child. You can either apply for a 30-month visa, or for a five-year visa.
- If you are applying for a 30-month visa
For adults and children, the visa fee is £180. For adults, the Immigration Health Surcharge fee (which allows use of the UK’s NHS) is £1,560. For children, the surcharge is £1,175.
- If you are applying for a five-year visa
For adults and children, the visa fee is £250. For adults, the Immigration Health Surcharge fee is £3,120. For children, the surcharge is £2,350.
How to apply
The application is made online and many will need to attend an appointment with VFS to enrol your biometrics. However, on 23 February 2021, the UK Immigration: ID Check service was introduced allowing those eligible to use the service to verify their identity through the app rather than having to attend a visa centre.
You can use the UK Immigration: ID Check service if you hold a BNO passport or a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) passport.
If you are applying as a family unit then the main application should apply first. That individual will have a unique reference number generated which must be linked to the family members’ applications.
- If applying from Hong Kong or outside of the UK
Unless applying through the UK Immigration: ID Check service, then once the application is submitted you will need to attend a nominated Visa Application Centre, likely in Hong Kong. This will be to give biometrics. Documents are normally uploaded prior to the appointment.
Check the latest VFS information to see what COVID restrictions on service might be in place.
BNO applicants are not eligible for Priority Visa service.
- If applying from within the UK
If you are applying from within the UK then, unless applying through the UK Immigration: ID Check service, you will need to attend a biometrics appointment with UKVCAS.
What visa do you get and what are the conditions?
Successful applicants will be granted a visa of either 30 months or five years.
You are free to take employment and study. You are not allowed to claim public funds.
How Truth Legal solicitors can help
Applying for a UK visa can be a time-consuming and stressful experience. At Truth Legal we can ease you through the process and increase the chances of your application being successful. If you think you might want assistance on this matter, please get in contact with us.