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The Dawn of an Exodus? UK government announce new visa for nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents

23 July 2020
The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has published a Policy Statement in respect of Hong Kong Nationals who hold British National (Overseas) (BNO)) status.

Click here to view the Policy Statement.

Anyone who has been following the news over this ex British colony will have seen the relationship between the UK and Chinese governments souring as Beijing has sought to exercise increasingly greater control over Hong Kong, and departing from the "one country, two systems" framework provided for under the 1984 Sino-British Declaration.

As part of diplomatic pressure being bought to bear the UK government intimated that the rights attached to holding BNO status, which basically gave access to consulate services and 6 months visits to the UK without requiring a visa, would be significantly extended if China didn't revise its position, and this is what the statement now details.

Said Mrs Patel: 

"The UK has a strong historic relationship with the people of Hong Kong and we are keeping our promise to them to uphold their freedoms….BN(O) citizens will now have a choice to come and live, work and study in the UK, building a new life for them and their family".

with such sentiment echoed by Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab:

"Today’s announcement shows the UK is keeping its word: we will not look the other way on Hong Kong, and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people".

BNO status was available to Hong Kong residents for the ten years up to 1 July 1997 (subject to some exceptions), and was closed to admission from that date.  Approximately 2.9m Hong Kong residents presently continue to hold this right. 

From January 2021 a new Hong Kong BNO visa will be introduced which in broad brush terms means that BNO holders and their dependents (which interestingly can include children over the age of 18 years subject to Home Office discretion) will be able to come to the UK to live and work in any occupation, without having a job to come to and without having to satisfy the usual requirement of being able to speak English.   Full access to schools and the NHS will also be available, but there will be no recourse to public funds and a visa fee will still be payable.

The visa will be for an initial period of 2.5 years, extendable by a further 2.5 years, or a single period of 5 years. After five years migrants can apply for permanent settlement / "indefinite leave to remain" and one year after that can obtain British Citizenship if desired.

This development will no doubt be of significant interest to Honk Kong residents holding BNO status and concerned over what the future under increasing direction from Beijing may hold.  For those who do not hold the BNO status the UK government has further referenced options available to Hong Kong residents in respect of sponsorship options under the new extended Points Based System (to be introduced later this year), together with the existing Youth Mobility visa.   Whether or not this may in any way act as a buffer to the impact of the ending of free movement of European Economic Area migrants following Brexit will remain to be seen.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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