Settlement on the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa Route
The Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa route has attracted a great amount of attention over the past year. According to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Six-Monthly Report on Hong Kong, 88,000 people had applied for visas under the scheme. Of those applications, 76,176 visas have been granted. According to a further study conducted by the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, there is considerable potential demand for the British National (Overseas) visa beyond the current number of people who have already applied. The latest HKBN(O) survey conducted by the Home Office was published in January 2022; this revealed that 96% of the interviewees who hold BN(O) visas intend to stay in the UK either indefinitely or at least longer than the duration of their current visa.
On 25 February 2022, following lengthy debates on the amendments to the Nationality and Borders Bill, the Government announced that they will allow individuals aged 18 or over, born on or after 1 July 1997 with at least one BN(O) parent, to apply to the route independently of their BN(O) parent. The Government has stated that the specific policy changes will be set out in September 2022, and they are expected to be effective in October 2022. This specific cohort of individuals aged 18 to 24 – who are too young to have qualified under the initial BN(O) visa process – will now be able to move to the UK on their own even if their BN(O) parent does not wish to apply, or if their BN(O) parent wishes to remain in Hong Kong. The Government added that those holding visas in this category will be able to be joined in the UK by their partner and children under the age of 18. After 5 years in the UK, those present with BN(O) visas will then be able to apply for settlement and thereafter, following a further 12 months residence, citizenship. The requirements for settlement applications are set out below.
Viable routes for young people from Hong Kong to come to the UK currently are either on a standard six month ‘standard’ visit visa, or on the Youth Mobility visa scheme, which offers two years’ leave to remain. The Government announced in December 2021 that there will be a total of 1000 Tier 5 visa places available to Hong Kong SAR passport holders in 2022. The first ballot was carried out in January 2022 and the second ballot will be carried out in July 2022.
Guidance for Hong Kong BN(O) ILR
In December 2021 the Home Office also issued new guidance for the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) route. It clarified how the Home Office will assess applications for settlement (also known as ‘indefinite leave to remain’ or ‘indefinite permission to stay’) via the BN(O) route.
This latest Guidance sets out the settlement requirements for HKBN(O) in paragraphs HK57.1 to HK63.1 of the Immigration Rules, as follows:-
The Applicant must have spent a continuous period of 5 years in the UK on a route to settlement. To qualify for the HKBN(O) route for settlement, the Guidance states that the most recent permission held by the applicant must have been as a Hong Kong BN(O) visa holder.
An applicant can also meet the continuous residence requirement of 5 years by combining the years spent in the UK on the BN(O) visa with previous visas held, provided they were visas leading to settlement, as long as their last grant of permission was on the BN(O) visa route. The Guidance explains that, if, prior to obtaining the Hong Kong BN(O) visa, the applicant had leave to remain on a different route to settlement (such as skilled worker, Tier 1,Tier 2, Global Talent, Innovator, Representative of an Overseas Business, UK Ancestry or on an Appendix FM route), those other periods of leave could cumulatively contribute to the continuous 5 year residence requirement in any combination. This means it is possible to have had various periods of leave in a number of categories prior to obtaining the BN(O) visa which can be counted towards the 5 year continuous residence requirement. However some routes – for example, periods of residence on a student visa (formerly known as a Tier 4 visa) and on the Youth Mobility Scheme – do not count towards the 5 years of continuous residence that the BN(O) route requires because they are not routes leading to settlement.
Who Is Eligible to Apply for Hong Kong BN(O) Settlement?
Qualifying for settlement (indefinite leave to remain) is open to anyone who is present in the UK on the Hong Kong BN(O) Route. As set out above, BN(O) status holders can qualify for settlement after 5 years of continuous residence based on either 5 years residence as a BN(O) visa holder or with a combination of periods of consecutive leave on other routes to settlement, as long as their last grant of permission was on the BN(O) route. Dependent partners, or Household Members (adult children) on the BN(O) route do not have to apply for settlement as a dependent. Instead they can make an application in their own right under the BN(O) route provided they meet the 5 year continuous residence requirement. Dependent children of BN(O) status holders who were granted entry clearance or leave to remain as BN(O) dependents should apply as a BN(O) Household Member for settlement upon turning 18.
BN(O) status holders who entered the UK prior to 19 July 2021 under the broader concession, which operated from 15 July 2020 to 19 July 2021 (also known as ‘Leave Outside the Rules’), would not be able to apply the period of leave granted under that concession towards the 5 year qualifying period for settlement.
Any absences during the 5 year period are considered in line with the current continuous residence rules. An applicant must not be absent from the UK for more than 180 days in any 12 month period, see the Continuous Residence Guidance for further information.
Additionally, the applicant must satisfy all the relevant validity and suitability requirements to qualify for settlement.
Contact our British Nationality Lawyers in London
For expert advice regarding an application for a Hong Kong BN(O) visa or any aspect of British Nationality Law, contact our British Nationality Lawyers on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.