UK to extend residency rights for BN(O) citizens in Hong Kong

UK to extend residency rights for BN(O) citizens in Hong Kong. Image credit: AdobeStock

UK to extend residency rights for BN(O) citizens in Hong Kong

(Partner Content) On 22 July 2020 the UK released more details about a new immigration route that could give up to three million people from Hong Kong a path to British citizenship. Here’s everything you need to know.

UK to extend residency rights for BN(O) citizens in Hong Kong

UK to extend residency rights for BN(O) citizens in Hong Kong. Image credit: AdobeStock

The Sino-British Joint Declaration 

The Sino-British Joint Declaration is an agreement between Britain and China signed in 1984 to settle the future of Hong Kong. The two governments agreed that China would reassume control of Hong Kong which was occupied by Britain. 

It states that China’s basic policies regarding Hong Kong would remain unchanged for 50 years, including the promise that the city would retain a high degree of autonomy – which the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill threatened. More specifically, the conditions stipulated in the Sinu-British Joint Declaration include Hong Kong retaining its capitalist economic system and own currency, legal system, legislative system, and same human rights and freedoms, as a special administrative region (SAR) of China. 

The most significant difference between mainland China and Hong Kong is that the mainland is communist and controlled by a single party, whereas Hong Kong has a limited democracy. The national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong was aimed at stamping out opposition to the ruling Communist Party and went against their human rights, which was the catalyst for the global outcry.  

A brief background on the Hong Kong protests

The ongoing 2019-2020 protests were triggered when the Hong Kong Government introduced the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill. The now abandoned bill would have allowed deportation to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong did not have deportation agreements — such as mainland China and Taiwan. Hong Kong residents and visitors were concerned that this would make them vulnerable to mainland China’s legal system and infringe on their civil liberties. 

The bill was withdrawn in September but demonstrations continue and protesters said it was “too little too late” and now demand full democratic rights and an inquiry into police actions. The five demands protesters are making:

  • Complete withdrawal of the extradition bill from the legislative process
  • Retraction of the riot characterisation of the protests 
  • Release and exoneration of arrested protesters 
  • Establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into police conduct and use of force
  • Resignation of Carrie Lam and the implementation of universal suffrage for Legislative Council elections

The Chinese government’s decision to impose its national security legislation on Hong Kong constitutes a breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. 

The UK’s response

On 1 July 2020, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab gave a statement to the House of Commons on the situation in Hong Kong: 

“In sum, Mr Speaker, this legislation has been enacted, as I said, in clear and serious breach of the Joint Declaration. China has broken its promise to the people of Hong Kong under its own laws. China has breached its international obligations to the United Kingdom under the Joint Declaration.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he would open a path to British citizenship for Hong Kong residents who were eligible for a British National (Overseas) passport (BNO).

What is BN(O) status

BN(O) status is a fairly obscure form of British nationality held by an estimated 2.9 million people in Hong Kong.  It did not, however, allow for long-term residence in the United Kingdom. 

BN(O) status was an entitlement but one had to registered to be recognised. The final deadline for registration was 1 July 1997, but some people received an extension to 31 December 1997. If you missed the deadline for registration you cannot apply retroactively, even if you were eligible at that time.

To qualify for BN(O) status, you had to be a citizen of British Dependent Territories by connection with Hong Kong. Those who did not register for BN(O) status and had no other nationality or citizenship on 30 June 1997 automatically became British Overseas Citizens on 1 July 1997.

Not all Hong Kong nationals have this status and it cannot be inherited or passed on. Many young protestors seen on news reports were born after 1997, which means they will not be able to obtain BN(O) status.

The new bespoke route to British citizenship 

Around 350,000 people in Hong Kong currently already have a BN(O) passport, but 2.6 million others are also eligible. This new bespoke immigration route will afford BN(O)s a full path to British citizenship. It will grant them five years limited leave to remain, with the right to live, work and study in the UK. After these five years, BN(O) visa holders will be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain. After holding indefinite leave to remain status for one year they can apply for British citizenship.

This visa category appears to be similar to UK ancestry visa, which also offers a five-year route to indefinite leave to remain. The main difference between the two will be that BN(O)s with indefinite leave will not have to apply to naturalise. They can register as British citizens under Section 4 of the British Nationality Act 1981 using the B(OTA) Form.

Dependants of BN(O) citizens
This route will enable those born after the UK’s handover of Hong Kong on 1 July 1997 to a BN(O) registered parent to apply and bring them to the UK. To bring dependants to the UK you must provide evidence that you can accommodate and support yourself and them financially for at least six months. 

New route requirements 

This route is offering BN(O) citizens the opportunity to acquire British citizenship with minimal requirements.  There are no skills tests and no minimum income requirements for applicants. You do not need to have a job before coming to the UK and you will be able to look for one upon arrival.

The offer to BN(O) citizens is a generous one. However, it is not unconditional. BN(O) citizens must support themselves independently and will not have access to public funds under this route. They must also meet strict criminality checks to be eligible. All applicants are required to pay visa fees, the immigration health surcharge and if they later apply for citizenship after becoming settled, they must pay that fee and meet the criteria. 

When will this new route be open?

The Hong Kong BN(O) visa route will open from January 2021. Eligible BN(O) citizens can apply both inside and outside the UK. 

We are living in uncertain times and immigration is becoming increasingly complex. As such, we recommend that you speak to an experienced immigration consultant who will help guide you through the process as well as stay on top of the latest updates and requirements for this new route as it unfolds. 

Our service ensures that your application has the greatest chance of success. Get in touch with our expert advisors on or give us a call on +44 (0) 20 7759 5330.