The UK government issued a press release on 1 July 2020 confirming that an unprecedented extension of visa rights will be offered to British Nationals (Overseas) citizens (‘BNO’) in Hong Kong, should China impose a new national security law on Hong Kong. These arrangements will allow BNOs the right to live and work in the UK, as well as providing a path to full British citizenship.
In 1985 the UK and Chinese government signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration – a legally binding agreement that set out how certain freedoms would be protected for the 50 years after China assumed sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997. At that time, anyone who was a British dependent territories citizen by connection with Hong Kong was given the option of becoming a BNO citizen.
These individuals had to register for BNO status by 1 July 1997. Anyone who missed the deadline is not able to apply retrospectively for BNO status.
The UK government estimates that there are around 2.9 million BNOs currently in Hong Kong.
How will visa rights change for BNOs?
Currently, BNOs do not have any automatic right to live or work in the UK and are therefore subject to immigration controls in the same way as any other non-EEA applicant. This usually means that they must apply for Tier 2 sponsorship or apply on the basis of a family relationship in the UK to remain in the UK long-term.
The new bespoke immigration route for BNOs would grant them 5 years leave in the UK with a right to work and study. After 5 years in the UK they may then able to apply for permanent residency rights and subsequently British nationality.
The Home Office has said that these new rules will be implemented in the coming months with the exact date and further details to be announced in due course.