Hong Kong residents, the BNO status and UK citizenship
Recent tensions in Hong Kong, where China has enforced new security law have led to widespread criticism from the international community and the UK government. The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has stated that the UK will now offer up to three million residents in Hong Kong a route to British citizenship as the sovereignty of this former British colony is compromised.
What are the new security laws?
China’s new security law that bans sedition, secession and subversion in Hong Kong will fundamentally change the territory’s legal structure. It introduces new crimes with severe penalties and up to life in prison and gives the mainland security personnel the legal authority to operate in Hong Kong with impunity. The enforcement of this new law by China on Hong Kong has been widely condemned by Australia, Canada, the UK and the US in a joint declaration stating that the laws will undermine Hong Kong’s “one-country, two-systems” freedom which it can legally enjoy until 2047.
What is the UK government proposing for BNO passport holders?
As it currently stands, there are around 350,000 Hong Kong citizens who enjoy a special immigration status with the UK under the British National Overseas (BNO) scheme which was created in the lead up to Hong Kong’s independence on July 1st 1997. This means that Hong Kong citizens can come to the UK as visitors without having to obtain entry clearance from any British diplomatic missions abroad (e.g. in Honk Kong), and can stay here for up to 6 months and then return when they wish for further visits. If any now fear for their lives, they may also come to the UK and claim asylum here as soon as possible. The fear is that the Chinese may prevent the Hong Kong citizens with BNO passports from leaving the country and if that happens, those with such passports or entitled to them, may have no option but to try and leave the country by diverse means and find their way to a safe third country, sympathetic to their plight, such as Britain.
What changes have taken place?
There are around 2.5 million who are eligible to apply under the scheme of obtaining BNO passports. Many will no doubt now take steps to do so. The UK Home Office has said that the UK will allow BNO holders to enter and live and work in the UK for extendable periods of 12 months and up to 5 years after which period, BNO passport holders will be able to apply for permanent residence, that is the freedom and right to live and work in the UK.
There will be no requirement of BNO passport holders having to obtain a job offer before they come to the UK, and there will be no minimum salary requirements for permission to work, as there is for other foreign nationals applying for work permits in the UK. They can work at any job and at any salary, but must not be paid less than the minimum wage authorized by the UK government. They can also study in the UK if they wish. A year after the grant of permanent residence, they can apply for British Citizenship.
BNO holders are currently offered the following limited rights, but all will now change as a result of the current political situation
- Right to enter the UK without a visa for up to six months (but this will now be one year with the possibility of extensions up to 5 years)
- Subject to immigration controls with no right to live or work in the UK.
- No right to switch from being a visitor to study or work while in Britain.
- Must pay for NHS care if ill during a visit.
- Not considered a British citizen by the European Union and as a result, cannot benefit from free movement rules.
- If wishing to come to work, study or join family, must apply for a visa under the same rules for other citizens who are not from the European Economic Area.
They will not be subject to these limited rights anymore and will enjoy more rights as BNO status holders with a full path to British citizenship after 5 years.
As featured on Bloomberg Radio
We are keeping up to date with all the latest information about immigration changes for Hong Kong residents and BNO status holders. Our legal experts are often invited to share their views and expertise on UK immigration issues on various news networks and have spoken about the issue on Bloomberg radio, click here to listen.