Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa and exceptional entry options

A special UK visa for those with British National Overseas (BN(O)) status in Hong Kong will be available from January 2021.

The Hong Kong BN(O) visa

Eligibility requirements include the following:

  • Applicants must be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong;
  • They must demonstrate that they can maintain and accommodate themselves for at least 6 months;
  • They must demonstrate a commitment to learn English;
  • They must have a certificate confirming they are free from TB; and
  • They must not have serious criminal convictions.

Applicants will not need to be sponsored or to meet minimum income requirements to be eligible. They will be able to bring immediate family members with them, including dependent children who are over 18 and do not themselves hold BN(O) status.

The visa will be valid for an initial period of 2.5 years with the possibility to extend. Alternatively, applicants will have the option of paying a higher fee for a 5-year visa. There will be a visa application fee but the Home Office has not yet confirmed the amount.

BN(O) citizens and their dependants who are already in the UK with visas valid through January 2021 will be able to apply for the BN(O) visa from within the UK when this new visa route comes into force in January 2021.

If the applicant applies for a 5-year visa, they would also have to pay for the Immigration Health Surcharge as a lump sum for the whole 5-year period as part of that application. The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) is currently £400 per year of visa duration. In October 2020, it is due to rise to £624 per year of visa duration for adults and £470 per year of visa duration for children.

They will have the right to work and study in the UK. If they satisfy the requirements to apply for settlement in the UK, they will be able to do so after 5 years. If they satisfy the requirements for citizenship, they will be able to apply one year after obtaining settlement.

Leave Outside the Immigration Rules

There is no way to apply for the BN(O) visa before the route opens in January 2021. However, the Home Office has stated that for those BN(O) citizens and their dependants who wish to travel sooner, Border Force Officers will be able to consider granting ‘leave (a visa) outside the immigration rules’, at the UK Border, for a period of 6 months.

In effect, they could travel to the UK, but instead of entering as visitors, they might be granted a visa for 6 months. Those already in the UK and whose visas are expiring before January 2021 can apply from within the UK for a 6-month visa outside the immigration rules.

With a visa granted outside the immigration rules, BN(O) citizens and their dependants could live and work in the UK. The Home Office advises that they should get health insurance, as they will not be able to access the NHS for free.

Home Office guidance confirms that those who gain entry or further leave in this way would be able to switch to the BN(O) visa from within the UK, once the route officially opens in January.

To gain an exceptional visa outside the immigration rules, applicants should show the following:

  • BN(O) status – note that a BN(O) passport is not required as Border Force Officers can check status on their databases;
  • That they are ordinarily resident in Hong Kong (or the UK if applying from within the UK);
  • Evidence of family links of any accompanying dependants;
  • The ability to accommodate and support themselves in the UK; and
  • That they have no serious criminal convictions.

Please get in touch with Samar Shams, Immigration and Global Mobility Partner, for advice on the BN(O) visa or on applying for a visa outside the immigration rules before January 2021.

This article was first published on 23 July 2020 and was updated on 4 October 2020 to include the latest available information.