Hong Kong

August 11

Hong Kong: New UK Immigration route for British Nationals Overseas (BNO)


OTB Legal

From January 2021, Hong Kong residents who hold British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) status can apply for a visa to live in the UK. In this post we will explore who can apply, what they will need to show in order be granted a visa, and what rights they will have when they get to the UK. We will also consider options for people who want to travel to the UK before January 2021.

Can I apply for the Hong Kong BN(O) visa?

You can only apply for a BN(O) visa if

  • you are a BN(O) citizen and;
  • you usually live in Hong Kong.

How do I know if I am a BN(O) citizen? Can I apply to become one now?

BN(O) status was introduce in 1987 in order for Hong Kong residents to retain a connection with the UK. Hong Kong residents had to actively register in order to get BN(O) status. Applications closed in 1997, so it is not possible to become a BN(O) if you have not done so already. Anyone born after 1997 will not be a BN(O).

You will need to show that you are a BN(O) citizen to qualify under this new route. The easiest way to do this would be to provide a current or expired BN(O) passport. You may also have correspondence from the time that you registered. If you do not have any of these, then the Home Office have said that they ‘may’ be able to check their records. However, we do not currently know how good those records are.

If you can’t remember whether you registered as a BN(O), then you could ask for a copy of your file from the Home Office.

Is there anything else that I need to show to get a Hong Kong BN(O) visa?


  • You need to prove your identity, by submitting a valid passport. Ideally this should be a BN(O) passport, but you could also use an HKSAR passport.
  • The Home Office will check that you will be able to support yourself financially for your first 6 months in the UK. The Home Office has not yet specified exactly how much money you need to have. However, for similar types of visa, a single applicant would need to show that they will have £9300 to cover them for 6 months.
  • The Home Office have said that this could come from various different sources. Some options are; savings, earnings from employment, income from investments, an educational grant such as a scholarship or support from a family member. They will also consider whether you have somewhere to stay such as with a family member. It is likely to be important that the right documents are provided with an application to show that an Applicant satisfies the financial requirements.
  • Applicants who do not speak English must show a commitment to learn ‘where appropriate’. If you do not speak any English currently, and you intend to apply for a visa in January, then you could start a basic English course now.
  • You need to show ‘ordinary residence’ in the Hong Kong. The Home Office have not provided precise information as to what this means in this instance. However, they accept that you may currently be in the UK, but be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong. For example, someone who is from Hong Kong but who is studying in the UK on a Tier 4 student visa is likely to be ‘ordinarily resident’ in Hong Kong. Documents that you can provide to show ordinary residence include Hong Kong identity card, a Hong Kong medical card, a voter’s card, tax records, record of paying rent or a mortgage, or a letter from an employer or education provider.
  • You will need a clear TB test certificate issued by a certified clinic. The test should be carried out shortly before you submit your application.
  • Applicants should have no serious convictions. They should also not have ‘engaged in conduct which the UK Government deems to conductive to the public good’ and must not fall foul of the ‘general grounds for refusal’ These are set out in detail in the Immigration Rules.

What about my family?

You can apply for close family members to come to the UK with you. This includes;

  • Spouse
  • Long term partner. A long term partner is a person that you have lived with in a relationship for 2 years or more.
  • Dependant children who are under 18.
  • Children who are aged 18 or over if
  • They were born after 1997 and
  • Are still dependant on you and
  • Refusing them would split up the family.
  • Adult dependants only in exceptional circumstance of high dependency.

You must provide that your dependants are related to you. You should supply documents to prove this. This could be a marriage certificate for your spouse, birth or adoption certificate for your children, and evidence of living together for 2 years for a partner.

Remember, you need to have enough money to support you and any family members who come with you. The more people apply, the more money you will need. We do not know exactly how much extra, but it is likely that an extra £1200 per person will be enough.

The current information suggests that family members should apply altogether.

Do I have to be in Hong Kong to apply for the visa?

No, you can apply from the UK. Guidance also suggests that an application can be submitted from a third country. However, remember that you must show that you usually live in Hong Kong.

How long will the visa last for? Can I stay in the UK permanently?

The initial visa will last for 2.5 years. Applicants can then apply to extend their leave for another 2.5 years.

After 5 years, BN(O) visa holders will be able to apply to stay in the UK indefinitely. Ultimately, they will then be able to apply for British citizenship if they choose to.

What can I do with a Hong Kong BN(O) visa?

This visa allows you to work, be self-employed and also to study. You will also be able to access healthcare services. However, you will not be able to claim public funds.

This sounds like a great option for me. When can I apply?

Applications will not open until January 2021. New guidance should be available in the autumn.

That’s a long time to wait. Is there any way to get to the UK sooner?

BN(O) nationals can come to the UK for a visit for up to 6 months without a visa. If you want to come to the UK to visit friends or family, or for a business trip, then you can enter as a visitor. However, you should not enter as a visitor if you wish to stay in the UK long term.

The Home Office have offered a potential alternative route however. They have said in the recent guidance that has been published that BN(O) nationals can apply on arrival for ‘leave outside the rules’ if they are eligible for entry via another immigration route. This means that your request will be considered by official at the port of entry. You will need to prove your

  • Identity
  • Your BN(O) status
  • That you normally live in Hong Kong
  • That you have enough money to support yourself and any dependants for 6 months.

The Border Force would also refuse entry if you are of bad character, or fall found of the general grounds for refusal.

If you bring dependants with you, then they must be able to prove their relationship with you. The guidance suggests that dependant family members must arrive with the BN(O) citizen.

If the application is granted, then you will be granted 6 months leave. You will be able to work and study. However, you will not be able to access NHS healthcare, and will have to arrange private health cover. You will also not be able to claim public funds.

This is a viable option but it is very important that the paperwork will need to be well prepared to avoid the risk of refusal at the airport. If you intend to use this option, then you should seek advice.

So what should I do now?

If you are considering coming to the UK before the route is officially open for application from abroad, you should seek legal advice now before travelling to the UK. Our specialist, Lydia Watkinson, will be able to provide advice on the steps that will need to be taken to maximise your prospects of being granted entry on this new route. You can schedule a free initial consultation with Lydia Watkinson here:

Although you cannot apply from abroad yet, you can make sure that you can locate relevant documents such as old passports and birth certificates. If you are not sure whether you have BN(O) status or not, then you could make a ‘subject access’ request to the Home Office for a copy of your Home Office file. It would be recommended to make this application as soon as possible as these requests can sometimes take some time for the Home Office to process.

We anticipate a high level of interest in this route. As soon as we can provide further meaningful advice, we will arrange appointments for clients to discuss their individual cases. If you would like to go on our priority list for initial appointments, then please contact Lydia Watkinson at [email protected]. We will offer appointments to individuals on the list first. Please also contact Lydia at this email address if you would like to be kept up to date on developments with this route as they are announced.

Finally, if you think that this article would be useful to anybody that you know, please share it with them.

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