< back

By Ross Kennedy

How to apply for the new Hong Kong BN(O) Visa immigration route to the UK and British citizenship

Updated 26 February, 2021

Applicants for the new Hong Kong British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) visa to the UK with certain biometric passports are now able to apply entirely digitally, using a smartphone app to scan their passport. (See below.)

Applications can be made from within the UK or overseas and will enable BN(O), Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) or European Economic Area (EEA) passport holders to submit the biometric data required and validate their identity using a Home Office app. The app has been launched as thousands of Hong Kong citizens applied for the BN(O) visa since it launched on 31 January.

What is the BN(O) Visa scheme?

Last year the United Kingdom Government outlined a new immigration route to the UK for Hong Kong British National (Overseas) citizens and their dependants. China’s new national security legislation on Hong Kong breached the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, undermining the “one country, two systems” framework, insisted UK Home Secretary Priti Patel.

As part of the 1984 handover from the UK to China, Britain offered Hong Kong’s British Dependent Territories citizens the opportunity to register for British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) status. UK Home Secretary Priti Patel explained why the new visa route to the UK would now be opened for those who had taken up the offer and their families: “Now that China, through its actions, has changed the circumstances that BN(O) citizens find themselves in, it is right that we should change the entitlements which are attached to BN(O) status. I have decided to improve significantly those entitlements, to reassure BN(O) citizens that they have options to live in the UK if they decide that is an appropriate choice for them.”

The UK Government responded rapidly to developments in Hong Kong, publishing rules on the new immigration route to protect BN(O) citizens’ rights under the new security legislation.

We have answered all the main questions for anyone considering the scheme below. Please feel free to contact us on +44 (0)207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com if you have any more questions or need any assistance.

Hong Kong

When can people apply for the new Hong Kong BN(O) visa?

The new “Hong Kong BN(O) Visa” route opened on 31 January 2021. The unique new scheme for BN(O) citizens and their dependants will afford them a route to British citizenship with no cap on numbers, skills tests or minimum income requirements.
While BN(O)s would have to be self-sufficient in the UK, they would not have to have a job, but would be able to look for one once in the UK. BN(O)s will be able to bring immediate dependants, including non-BN(O)s. A smartphone app allowing applications to be made from home launched on 23 February.

Do people need to renew their BN(O) passport?

BN(O) citizens do not need to renew their BN(O) passports or apply for a passport in the meantime. Holding a valid BN(O) passport is not necessary to apply for the new visa scheme as long as people have BN(O) status (see how to apply below).

How many people have BN(O) status?

Approximately 3.4 million people obtained BN(O) status. The UK Government estimates there may be 2.9 million BN(O) citizens still alive. BN(O) status is not passed on to children.
Currently people with BN(O) status can visit the UK for up to six months at a time, without a visa. They are subject to immigration controls and do not have a right to live in the UK. The new scheme from January gives those who registered as a BN(O) citizen the opportunity to apply for a visa allowing them to come to the UK with a view to settling permanently and applying to become British citizens if they wish.

How many people are expected to come to the UK from Hong Kong?

The UK Government estimates that between 258,000 to 322,000 BNO citizens and their family members could make their home in the UK, bringing what the Home Office says will be “a net benefit to the UK of between £2.4 billion and £2.9 billion over five years.”

Thousands of BN(O) status holders and their family members have already applied for the new visa since it launched on 31 January. This is in addition to the approximately 9,000 BN(O) status holders and their dependants that have been granted Leave Outside the Rules at the border between 15 July and 16 February 2021.

Who will be eligible to apply for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa?

BN(O) citizens as well as their immediate family dependants will be eligible to apply for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa under the BN(O) Status Holder route. Dependants need not have BN(O) status themselves to be eligible. (Dependants are defined in the Immigration Rules as a spouse or partner or children aged under 18. If there are serious or compelling reasons, the definition may include grandchildren under 18.)

Adult children (born on or after 1 July 1997) of BN(O) citizens will be eligible to apply under the BN(O) Household Member route, as will their immediate family dependants.  The BN(O) Household Member, and any dependent partner or dependent child of the Household Member, must be applying at the same time as the BN(O) citizen and form part of the same household as the BN(O) citizen.

However dependent grandparents or other relatives will not be eligible if they are not BN(O) citizens in their own right.

In exceptional circumstances of high dependency, other adult dependants may also be eligible at the UK Government’s discretion, considered on a case by case basis.

What other routes are there for Hong Kong residents who do not qualify for the BN(O) route?

For those who are not covered by the eligibility criteria above, the existing (T5) youth mobility scheme is open to people in Hong Kong aged between 18-30, with 1,000 places currently available each year.

Other routes to come to the UK to study and work are also open. The UK’s new Points-Based Immigration System was launched in December, with lower salary thresholds than before and with no resident labour market test to carry out.

The UK may also see people from Hong Kong seeking asylum if the political situation deteriorates and the above routes are not open to people at risk.

What is required to apply for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa?

In addition to holding BN(O) status, applicants and their dependants must also:

  • be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong if applying overseas or be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong, the UK or islands if applying in the UK
  • demonstrate their ability to accommodate and support themselves in the UK for at least six months, unless they have already been living in the UK for 12 months or more
  • demonstrate “a commitment to learn English in the UK” – though there will be no English language test on arrival, applicants “will require a good knowledge of the English language if they choose later to make an application for settled status (indefinite leave to remain) after five years”
  • hold a current tuberculosis test certificate from a clinic approved by the Home Office in Hong Kong or in the UK; if applying from another country, there are a number of listed countries from which residents would require a tuberculosis test
  • have no serious criminal convictions; have not otherwise engaged in behaviour which the UK Government deems not conducive to the public good and not be subject to other general grounds for refusal set out in the Immigration Rules
  • pay a visa application fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge

How much will a Hong Kong BN(O) Visa application cost?

The initial visa fee is £180 per person for up to 30 months or £250 per person for up to five years. The Immigration Health Surcharge payable on application will cost £624 for adults and £470 for children under 18. There will also be fees for settlement and citizenship applications. The fee for settlement is currently set at £2,389 plus a £19.20 Biometric enrolment fee and citizenship currently costs £1,206 for adult applications.

Financial district of London

How will the BN(O) route to British citizenship work?

Those that can meet the requirements above will be able to apply for leave to remain in the UK for five years. (There will be an initially cheaper option of applying for an initial period of 30 months’ leave, and then renewing the leave. However, applying for five years’ leave is likely to be more cost effective overall.)

After five years, BN(O)s will be able to apply for settlement (indefinite leave to remain) – so long as they have not left the UK for over 180 days in any 12 month period – and after a further 12 months, they will be able to for UK citizenship.

What will the scheme entitle BN(O) citizens and their dependants to?

Visa holders will not require additional permissions to work – either employed or self-employed – or to study.

There will be access to education including:

  • schooling for under 18 child dependants
  • education and training for young people aged 16-19
  • the ability to apply for higher education courses

While on the above route to settlement, BN(O) citizens and their dependants will have no recourse to public funds if they cannot support themselves.

There will be free access to healthcare under the National Health Service, though those on the scheme will be expected to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge on application (see above). Anyone convicted of a criminal offence in the UK will be liable for removal.

How do you apply for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa scheme?

Applications for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa can be made from Hong Kong, from the UK or elsewhere.

BN(O) status holders and their eligible family members who hold a biometric BN(O), Hong Kong Special Administrative Region  or European Economic Area (EEA) passport can scan their passport on a smartphone app from 23 February and thus complete their application from home, rather than visiting a visa application centre.

You  can apply online at this link, using the Home Office app to check your biometric BN(O), Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) or European Economic Area (EEA) passport.

If you are applying as a family unit, you must apply together. The main applicant who is a BN(O) should apply first and get their unique reference number. Any family members applying will need to quote this unique reference number in their applications.

If family members do not apply at the same time, they will not be able to apply for the Hong Kong BN(O) visa to join the BN(O) later.

Most BN(O) citizens will complete their application entirely online without the need to send in physical documents by post or be interviewed.

All applicants will be required to provide biometric data. BN(O) citizens will not be required to submit fingerprint biometrics and will simply have to provide facial biometrics as part of the application process. Dependants of BN(O) citizens who are not BN(O) citizens themselves will need to give their fingerprints as part of the application process.

Successful applicants will be issued with a digital visa.

Applicants who attend an appointment at a Visa Application Centre to enrol their biometric fingerprints will receive a visa vignette sticker in their passport. Applicants must travel to the UK within 90 days of the date of the vignette placed in their passport, or if they change their travel plans later they will need to apply for a vignette change with an associated fee.

There will be no requirement for applicants to apply for or hold a valid BN(O) passport and successful applicants will be able to travel on a valid Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Passport.

However, valid or expired BN(O) passports should be kept and submitted with an application as evidence of BN(O) status. Where a BN(O) passport has been lost, eligibility checks can be made using historical records held by Her Majesty’s Passport Office.

If applicants have a valid BN(O) passport, the Home Office has  advised them to use it for their application when using the app. Successful applicants can travel to the UK using any valid passport – it does not have to be the passport they applied with.

BN(O) status holders who do not have a valid BN(O) passport can apply for a BN(O) passport before application. A BN(O)passport application costs £106 and currently takes approximately 4 to 6 weeks to process.

How to download and use the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ smartphone app to complete the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa application digitally:

Eligible applicants can now download and use the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ smartphone app to scan their biometric passport instead of attending a visa application centre. The app will scan your biometric BN(O), HKSAR or EEA passport.

The app will only work once you start your application online (here). When you get to the identity verification stage you will be asked to open or download it (see here, or links below).

You can apply online on the same smartphone you have downloaded the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ checking app on, or connect the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app to your application using a QR code you can find on the web page for your application when you select ‘Confirm your identity’.

There are reports that occasionally the app cannot read the chip in biometric documents (mainly an  issue with Hong Kong SAR passports  issued before Summer 2019). If applicants are unable to scan their passport chip, they will need to finalise their application in an appointment at a Visa Application Centre if in Hong Kong or at a UKVCAS location in the UK. (It is not possible to switch the passport used to apply mid-application).

If you have any problems scanning your chip or using the app, there are more tips and contact numbers to call here.

What smartphone do you need to use the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ smartphone app for Hong Kong BN(O) Visa applications?

Android phone users can download the app from the Google Play Store.

They will need a smartphone that is Android 6.0 and above; at least 135MB of storage space to install the app; NFC (Near-Field Communication) so the app can scan documents (if you can use your phone to pay for things using contactless, this means it has NFC and you can use the app. You can check your mobile phone settings too.)

iPhone users can download the app from the App Store.

They will need an iPhone 7, 7 Plus or newer; iOS 13.2 or later (check in Settings, then General, then About) and at least 120MB of storage space to install the app. (If the app does not request access to your camera, enable it in Settings.)

Can BN(O) citizens apply from the UK?

BN(O) citizens already in the UK on another form of leave will be able to apply and switch to the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa from within the UK from 31 January 2021. BN(O) citizens already in the UK whose leave is due to expire before the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa is available, should look to extend their leave and then apply for the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa.

How long does a BN(O) visa application take?

According to the Home Office, you should receive a decision on your application within 12 weeks of fully submitting your application if no further information is required. This would be 12 weeks from submitting your application online, using the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app on your smartphone for your documents, or alternatively, 12 weeks from when you have submitted your biometric details at a visa application centre if required.

The process may take longer if:

  • more information or supporting evidence is requested from you
  • you do not have a valid tuberculosis (TB) certificate
  • you have a criminal conviction for an offence that is recognised in the UK

What COVID-19 measures are there in place for travel to the UK?

Arrivals must have proof of a negative COVID-19 test to travel to the UK. A test must be taken within three days of departure. Arrivals must also self-isolate for ten days. For our constantly updated list of exemptions and full details of the UK’s Coronavirus and immigration stipulations, click here.

 

Please feel free to contact us on +44 (0)207 033 9527 or enquiries@vanessaganguin.com for any assistance with the process.