Britain has announced details of a new visa for Hong Kong people who hold British National (Overseas) passports and close family members, confirming their right to work or study in the UK for up to five years as a pathway to full citizenship.

London originally announced plans to extend the immigration rights of BNO holders on July 1, the day after China imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong. A local activist group described the new visa, open for applications from January 31, as generous.

The HKSAR Passport and the BNO. Photo: Wikicommons.

“The imposition of the National Security Law on Hong Kong marked a clear erosion of the rights and freedoms for the people of this city,” said British Consul-General Andrew Heyn in a statement. “This new route to the UK is part of our commitment to the people of Hong Kong. The UK is ready to welcome BN (O) citizens and their dependants to the UK.”

The cost of the visa has been set lower than many others. A five-year visa will cost £250 (HK$2,532) per person. Applicants will also be able to apply for a 30-month visa which will cost £180 per person.

Like other nationals moving to the UK, BN (O) citizens will have to show they can support themselves and their dependants financially for at least six months.

The new visa scheme also extends to a BN (O) holder’s adult children, their spouses and their underaged children. It may also extend to relations such as grandparents and siblings where a high level of dependency can be shown.

Visa holders will have the right to work and study in the UK for a period of five years, at the end of which they may apply for “settled” status. They can apply for citizenship after the sixth year. The new arrangements, announced by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, will open up a potential pathway to full British citizenship to some three million Hongkongers.

Kezia Daley, a UK immigration specialist, called the new arrangements unique.

The fees applied are incredibly low in comparison to other routes into the UK and can be seen as a direct response to China and its recent actions… The UK is clearly attempting to send a message that it intends to protect the special and enduring ties the UK has with the BN (O) citizens of Hong Kong,” Daley said.

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel on Thursday said she was “delighted’ to confirm the new visa arrangements, referring to the “strong historic relationship” between the UK and Hong Kong, a former British colony: “Dominic Raab and I are keeping our promise and upholding their freedoms,” she tweeted, referring to the UK Foreign Secretary.

Previously, only individuals who were born in British Hong Kong before the city’s handover to China on July 1, 1997, were eligible for a BN (O) passport, which did not automatically give holders the right of abode in Britain.

On Friday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong criticised the UK’s new BNO visa arrangements, accusing London of being “hypocritical” and demanding that it “immediately correct its mistake.”

‘Life-saving’

Stand with Hong Kong, an international activist group, welcomed the news. “We are very grateful to the UK government for this new policy announcement, which reaffirms the UK’s commitment to Hongkongers,” spokesperson John Song said.

An elderly protester known as Grandma Wong waves a British flag at a protest on July 7, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

“The scheme will provide Hongkongers with a vital, life-saving opportunity to live freely in the UK, and to enjoy the freedom and democracy that Hongkongers cherish.”

“We’re very pleased to see the UK government demonstrate its commitment to Hong Kong. At the same time, we must remember the reason why Hongkongers are fighting for freedom – we want to live free in our homeland. The fight to liberate Hong Kong will continue and we must not forget those who have chosen to stay in Hong Kong.” 

Latest

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.