Last month we published an article “BN(O) Passport: An Ongoing Debate” outlining the possible measures that the UK Government planned to implement for British National (Overseas) (“BN(O)”) Passport holders. On 22 July 2020, the UK Government provided clarity over what new rights will be granted to BN(O) citizens. In an address to the UK Parliament, the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, said “BN(O) citizens in Hong Kong are in a unique position, which is why I have designed a policy which is specific to them in the wider immigration system”.
By way of reminder, BN(O) citizens either: (i) registered as a BN(O) citizen before the handover on 1 July 1997, or (ii) are individuals from Hong Kong that did not register as a BN(O) citizen, but had no other nationality or citizenship on 30 June 1997.
Changes to BN(O) benefits
At the time of our previous article, BN(O) Passport holders from Hong Kong had the right to enter the UK Visa-free for up to 6 months. The UK Government has now stated that BN(O) citizens are eligible to apply for a Visa to the UK that will last up to 5 years.
To obtain the new Visa, applicants will not be required to complete any skills tests or minimum income requirements, economic needs tests and there will be no caps on how many Visas will be granted. Rights granted will also extend to immediate dependants, including non-BN(O) citizens.
The caveats are that applicants need to:
- meet strict criminality checks;
- demonstrate an ability to accommodate and support themselves in the UK for at least six months;
- demonstrate a commitment to learn English in the UK where appropriate (there will be no language test);
- hold a current tuberculosis test certificate from a clinic approved by the Home Office;
- be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong, which includes those currently in the UK but ordinarily resident in Hong Kong;
- pay Visa fees and the Immigration Health Surcharge.
Previously, BN(O) Passport citizens had no access to the National Health Service (NHS), having paid the Immigration Health Surcharge, the new Visa will grant access to the NHS.
School children of BN(O) Visa holders will have access to public education. However, there will not be access to other public funds, such as unemployment and housing benefits.
As touched upon the Government are extending the rights of this Visa to BN(O) citizen’s immediate dependants. Immediate dependants will include spouses or unmarried partners who can demonstrate 2 years’ cohabitation and children under the age of 18.
The UK Government acknowledged that there will be cases where the children of BN(O) citizens are not eligible as they were born after 1997, therefore the Government will allow exceptions in “compelling and compassionate circumstances” for children who were born after 1997 but are still dependant on their BN(O) citizen parents. Other adult dependants may also be eligible in exceptional circumstances of high dependency.
Pathway to citizenship
The Visa will allow BN(O) citizens to reside and work or study in the UK without additional permissions, with a pathway to settlement and then citizenship. In our previous article we mentioned Dominic Raab’s statements regarding BN(O) citizens being provided a “pathway to future citizenship”. This pathway has now been clearly laid out.
After 5 years in the UK, BN(O) citizens will be eligible to apply for settlement status.
To be successful, applicants must (i) not have been absent from the UK for more than 180 days in any 12-month period, (ii) passed an English language test; and (iii) paid the settlement fee.
Once granted, settlement status can be maintained despite absences from the UK of up to 2 years.
After a year of settlement status, applicants can apply to naturalise as a British citizen.
At this early stage some questions remain unanswered. For example, the requirement for proof of ability to accommodate and support one’s self for at least 6 months. It is unclear how this will need to be demonstrated but it will likely require a baseline level of readily accessible funds.
The fee for the initial Visa and any renewal is still to be announced, the UK Government has said that they will base the fee on other current Visa prices using the principles for determining fees set out in the Immigration Act 2014 and the “overall design of the new Immigration System”.
Procedure and timing
The plan is for the Visa applications to be accessible online from January 2021, eligible BN(O) citizens will not have to hold the BN(O) Passport in order to apply for this Visa.
Applicants have two options: (i) apply for an initial period of stay for 30 months, renewable by a second application for a further 30 months; or (ii) apply for the full 5-years.
While the Government will not officially implement the rules until Autumn, on the information provided the proposed BN(O) Visa should provide significant options and additional benefits to BN(O) citizens. Such options and benefits will need to be carefully weighed up in light of each individuals or families practical circumstances, including financial circumstances and not forgetting the UK’s high tax regime and the potential application of inheritance taxes over worldwide assets.
Stay tuned for more updates!
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This article is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and readers should not regard this article as a substitute for detailed advice in individual instances.