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New visa route for British National (Overseas) Citizens

  • United Kingdom
  • Hong Kong
  • Global mobility and immigration


On 1 July 2020, 23 years to the day after the handover of Hong Kong to China, the UK Government announced that it would introduce a new visa route for British National (Overseas) citizens (“BN(O) citizens”) and their close family members to come to the UK to live and work or study. This route will allow BN(O) citizens and their family members to settle in the UK eventually.

Who are BN(O) Citizens?

BN(O) status was given to persons of Hong Kong who were British Dependent Territories Citizens and had registered for it. The deadline for registration was 30 September 1997.

Whilst the passport looks similar to that of a British citizen’s, BN(O) citizens do not have the right of abode in the UK and are subject to ordinary immigration control. This means that any BN(O) citizens need to apply for a visa if they want to come to the UK for more than a visit.

This status also cannot be passed down to their children and cannot be obtained now.

Approximately 3.4 million obtained the BN(O) status and it is now estimated that there are around 2.9 million BN(O) citizens still alive.

Why now?

The UK Government announced the new route in response to China’s decision to impose a national security law on Hong Kong, which was described by the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, as “a grave and deeply disturbing step” which “constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Joint Declaration”.

What is the new route?

The new route, called the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Visa (“BN(O) Visa”), will allow BN(O) citizens to come to the UK for five years. This status will allow them to live and work or study but will give them no access to public funds. The visa can be valid for an initial period of 30 months, which is then extendable by another 30 months, or for a single period of five years for an additional fee.

To be eligible for the visa, applicants need to show the following:

  • BN(O) status – notably, applicants do not need to have a valid BN(O) passport and can apply even if their passport has expired or has been lost. There is no requirement to apply for a new one and BN(O) citizens will be able to travel to the UK on their HKSAR passports upon approval of the BN(O) visa
  • ordinarily resident in Hong Kong
  • ability to accommodate and support themselves financially in the UK for at least six months – the question of maintenance is a key one and while the UK Government has provided some guidance on how one can satisfy this, there is no guidance at this stage on how much would be required
  • a commitment to learn English, where appropriate
  • be free from Tuberculosis (TB) – as with the current requirement for other visas, this should only be required if the applicant is applying from a country where the TB test is required and the applicant was in that country for at least six months when they make the application
  • have no serious criminal convictions, have not otherwise engaged in behaviour which the UK Government deems not conducive to the public good, and not be subject to other general grounds for refusal

While the guidance has confirmed that BN(O) citizens must pay a fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge (which is currently £400 per person per year, increasing to £624 per person per year on 1 October 2020), there is currently no information on how much the visa fee will be (this is due this Autumn). The costs are likely to be the determining factor for whether someone applies for a 30-month visa or five-year visa straight up.

BN(O) citizens already in the UK on a different immigration route could also switch into this route.

Once a BN(O) Visa Holder has completed five years in this route and have fulfilled the terms of the BN(O) Visa, they will be eligible to apply for settlement. In particular, the BN(O) Visa Holder must meet the rules for continuous residence in the UK, which allows for only 180 days of absence from the UK in any 12-month period (on a rolling basis). What is unknown at this point is whether the BN(O) route could be combined with previous leave in the UK under a different immigration route to meet the qualifying five years for settlement. The current fee for the application is at £2,389 with additional fees for an appointment, biometric enrolment and priority service on top.

Following that, they could register for British citizenship 12 months after obtaining settlement (at a current fee of £1,206). Those married to a British citizen are eligible for British citizenship as soon as they have obtained settlement.

BN(O) citizens can bring their close family members to the UK as their dependants. Close family members are:

  • spouse or civil partner
  • unmarried partner
  • children under the age of 18 when they first apply
  • other family members where they can show there is a high level of dependency

When does it come into force?

The new route is open from January 2021.

Before the route formally opens though, the UK Government is offering BN(O) citizens who are not eligible for an existing immigration route the opportunity to seek “Leave Outside the Rules” at the UK border. This will grant them and their dependants six months leave to live and work or study in the UK. Once the BN(O) citizen and any family members are in the UK, they will need to apply for leave to remain under the BN(O) route when it is open.

Those seeking “Leave Outside the Rules” must meet the same requirements for a visa application as mentioned above with an additional requirement of full health insurance for at least six months.

Existing Immigration Routes

BN(O) citizens could still apply for a visa in an existing immigration route that they are eligible for. There are a number of immigration routes but the only ones that would allow a migrant to work and settle in the UK eventually are:

  • Tier 2 (General)
  • Global Talent

Partners of British citizens or persons settled in the UK would also have the ability to work in the UK and this route also leads to settlement.

Those wanting to come to the UK to work on a temporary basis can apply under the following routes:

  • Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme)
  • Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange)

These routes only allow migrants to come for a limited period of time and do not lead to settlement.

It is important to note that a new immigration system is being implemented at 11pm on 31 December 2020. The details of the new immigration system goes beyond this e-brief but a key feature of the new system is that it will be easier for migrants to switch immigration status.

What about other citizens living in Hong Kong who are not BN(O) citizens?

Other citizens who are living in Hong Kong but who are not BN(O) citizens could still come to the UK under one of the existing immigration routes mentioned above.