From 31 January 2021 two new immigration routes will be introduced for British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) citizens and their adult children who were born on or after 1 July 1997. These two routes are BN(O) status holder and BN(O) household member.
On 22 October 2020 the Home Office published the detailed Immigration Rules for these routes.
Who can apply under BN(O) status holder route?
Under the new rules, any BN(O) citizen who is ordinarily resident in Hong Kong or the United Kingdom (plus Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man) is eligible to apply under this route. They need not hold a valid BN(O) citizen passport, as long as they qualify for BN(O) citizenship. Usually this includes people born in Hong Kong before 1 July 1997 who registered for BN(O) status (although there may be some exceptions depending on individual circumstances).
Some family members of a BN(O) citizen who meet the above criteria can also apply at the same time as the main applicant. The following categories of family members can apply as dependants:
- Spouses and unmarried partners who are in a genuine and subsisting relationship with the BN(O) citizen. Unmarried partners must have also lived with the BN(O) citizen for at least two years in a relationship akin to marriage.
- Children and grandchildren under the age of 18 who normally live with the BN(O) citizen. Both parents of a child, or grandparents of a grandchild, must apply at the same time. Alternatively, if a child's or grandchild's application is accompanied by only one parent's or grandparent's application, that parent or grandparent must evidence sole responsibility for the child.
- An adult dependent relative who is over the age of 18 and is the parent, grandparent, brother, sister, son or daughter of the BN(O) citizen. In addition, adult relatives must be dependent on the BN(O) citizen because of their age, illness or disability, form part of the same household and be unable to obtain the required level of help in Hong Kong.
Who can apply under BN(O) household member route?
Adult children of a BN(O) citizen over the age of 18 and born on or after 1 July 1997 can apply under this route. They must normally live with their BN(O) citizen parent.
Main applicants under the BN(O) household member route can have dependants accompany them to the United Kingdom. However, this includes partners and minor children only (not grandchildren and adult dependent relatives).
Eligibility criteria for all applicants
Residence in Hong Kong or United Kingdom
Those applying for entry clearance must be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong. Individuals who are already in the United Kingdom must be ordinarily resident there. There is no minimum period of residence or maximum limit on absences with which to comply. Applicants will need to show that they live in the United Kingdom or Hong Kong on a regular basis and provide evidence confirming this (eg, utility bills, a tenancy or mortgage agreement, an identity card, a letter from an employer, doctor or government agency, school reports, tax documentation or a polling card).
Applicants will need to show that they can maintain and accommodate themselves and dependants for at least six months. They will need to provide bank statements showing sufficient funds and evidence confirming accommodation arrangements (eg, a tenancy agreement or a letter from their landlord or a family member).
Applicants who have been residing in the United Kingdom for more than 12 months need not provide the above evidence and will automatically meet the financial requirement.
Applicants resident in Hong Kong will need to provide a tuberculosis (TB) test certificate from a Hong Kong-based approved clinic. UK applicants with leave granted for six months or fewer or who obtained leave to enter at the border will also need to provide a TB test certificate from a UK-based approved clinic.
Applicants must have no serious criminal convictions or adverse immigration history (eg, previously deceiving immigration authorities).
Applicants do not need to speak English (or meet the English-language requirement) to be granted limited leave under these routes. However, those who wish to apply for settlement in the future must meet the English-language and Life in the UK test requirements.
The application process for both routes will be launched on 31 January 2021. Before this date, it is also possible for BN(O) citizens and their dependants who travel to the United Kingdom to be admitted outside the Immigration Rules on arrival and for those whose existing leave expires before the scheme launches to apply for further stay outside the Immigration Rules. In each case, applicants must provide evidence of meeting all of the eligibility criteria above.
The Home Office intends to release an ID check app for use in the application process. Applicants with biometric passports can use the app to submit their application. Alternatively, applications can be made using an online form. Applicants will then need to enrol their biometric information (fingerprints and a digital photo) at a visa application centre.
Visa duration and format
It is possible to apply either for a 30-month visa or a five-year visa. It may be convenient to apply for a five-year visa to avoid the need to renew it in the future; however, this will involve greater upfront cost. Successful applicants will receive a digital visa.
Settlement and British citizenship
After five years' continuous residence in the United Kingdom, main applicants and their dependants may become eligible for settlement, otherwise called indefinite leave to remain or permanent residence. They will need to meet all of the usual settlement requirements, which for adults includes passing the Life in the UK test (unless exempt) and not being absent from the United Kingdom for more than 180 days in any rolling 12-month period during the five years.
For most applicants, eligibility for British citizenship will be possible one year after settlement has been granted. It will be possible immediately after the grant of settlement for those with a British spouse or civil partner or for children under 18 who are born in the United Kingdom. Naturalisation as a British citizen involves different residence requirements of no more than 450-days absence over the five years before the application (or no more than 270 days over a three-year qualifying period for those with a British spouse or civil partner), and no more than 90-days absence in the final 12 months.
The Home Office application fee will be £180 for a 30-month visa or £250 for a five-year visa.
Applicants will also need to pay the immigration health surcharge, which is currently £624 per year per adult and £470 per year per child. There may also be additional fees for appointments and the priority service to expedite application processing.
Main applicants and their dependants will be permitted to study and work in the United Kingdom with few restrictions while holding leave on these routes.
Employment as a professional sportsperson or sports coach will not be allowed.
There will also be no access to public funds while holding limited leave under the routes (although accessing the National Health Service and attending a state school is allowed).