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The Status of Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Citizens

British nationality is somewhat unique as there are various different forms of nationality, with fewer rights attached to them than being a ‘British Citizen’. These are a consequence of the UK’s close historical connection with many foreign states and territories during the time of the British Empire.  This blog post discusses Hong Kong and the status of British National (Overseas) Citizens, including their eligibility for settlement in the UK and British citizenship.

What is a Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Citizen? 

Hong Kong was leased to Britain for 99 years from 1898 to 1997. When the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force, on 1 January 1981, residents of Hong Kong became British Dependent Territories Citizens (BDTC). This gave them the right to live in Hong Kong, but no other British territory. 

Hong Kong residents automatically lost BDTC status on 1 July 1997 when sovereignty of Hong Kong was transferred to China, becoming a Special Administrative Region. Therefore the status of British National (Overseas) Citizen was created in advance of this date. 

Eligible residents of Hong Kong could apply to register as a British National (Overseas) Citizen from 1 July 1987 until the end of the registration period, which was dependent on the birth year of the applicant. The latest possible registration date was 31 December 1997. Approximately 3.4 million people became BN(O)s, most of whom live in Hong Kong. Those that did not register and held no other nationality became British Overseas Citizens on 1 July 1997. 

British National (Overseas) Citizens cannot pass this status on to their children and BN(O) citizenship can no longer be acquired. 

Rights of entry to and residence in the UK for Hong Kong BN(O)s  

Hong Kong BN(O)s are entitled to hold British National (Overseas) passports.

They do not have the right of abode in the UK. Therefore they cannot live and work in the UK and are subject to immigration control in the normal way. 

British National (Overseas) Citizens are able to enter the UK as a visitor for a period of up to six months, without being required to apply for a visa in advance. If they want to remain in the UK for a longer period or for a purpose other than as a visitor, BN(O)s have to apply for a UK visa. 

There are numerous immigration routes open to Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Citizens interested in relocating to the UK, including the Tier 1 Investor visaSole Representative of an Overseas Business visa, and Innovator visa.

British National (Overseas) Citizens aged 18-30 who wish to live and work in the UK, may be eligible for a Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa

Can Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Citizens become British citizens? 

BN(O)s that have lived in the UK for a continuous period of 5 years and have held ILR for more than 12 months can register as British Citizens. Registration is by entitlement if all of the conditions are met, as opposed to naturalisation which is at the discretion of the Home Secretary. 

What other rights do Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Citizens have? 

BN(O)s are not required to register with the police. They are eligible to vote in UK and EU elections. They can enlist to serve in the British Armed Forces and can be employed in the Civil Service. 

BN(O)s are able to seek the consular assistance of the British authorities when they are abroad. They cannot do so in China (including Hong Kong), as under Chinese nationality law the majority of BN(O)s are Chinese nationals. 

Contact our Immigration Barristers

Our immigration barristers are experts in the immigration options available to Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Citizens.  If you are a Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Citizen and would like to discuss an application for a UK visa that will lead to settlement in the UK, contact our immigration barristers on +44 (0) 203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.


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