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What Does It Mean to Be a British National (Overseas) and What’s Next for Citizens of Hong Kong?
On 30 June 2020, Hong Kong formalised national security law, which has not only sparked protests across the former British colony, but also international criticism. The Uk says that the passing of a new security law by the Hong Kong authorities was a “clear and serious breach” of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration – a legally binding agreement which set out how certain freedoms would be protected for the 50 years after China assumed sovereignty in 1997, as It violates Hong Kong’s autonomy and threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration.
In response, the UK government last week offered a route to British citizenship, meaning that around 350,000 BNO passport holders, and a further 2.6 million others, will be able to come to the UK for five years, with the ability to apply for full British citizenship after 6 years.
Who is being offered a citizenship?
The “bespoke” immigration route announced on 1 July applies to those holding British National (Overseas) status and their dependents.
In the 1980s, British National Overseas Passport holders in Hong Kong were granted special status but currently have restricted rights; BNOs can hold a British passport and get consular assistance and protection from UK embassies but are only entitled to visa-free access to the UK for six months, with no automatic right to live or work in the UK.
Before 1 July 1997, someone who was considered to be a British Overseas Territories citizen through their connection with Hong Kong, was able to register as a British National (Overseas) – or BNOs.
Those British Overseas Territories citizens from Hong Kong who did not register as British nationals (overseas), and had no other nationality or citizenship on 30 June 1997, became British overseas citizens on 1 July 1997.
What has changed?
Under this new bespoke scheme, BNOs and their dependants, are being granted the right to stay in the UK for work or study.
After the initial five years, BNOs will be able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain subject to meeting certain requirements; after a further 12 months with settled status, they will be able to apply for British citizenship. The UK government will need to implement these changes in a new statement of changes to the Immigration Rules which will confirm the requirements BNOs will need to meet to qualify under this new visa category and how they apply for this visa.
Who might apply and what requirements will be in place?
It is estimated that there are 350,000 BNO passport holders, and a further 2.6 million other citizens eligible for the scheme. The government announcement made no mention of quotas or restrictions on those who might apply for the scheme, and stated its aim to implement a “simple, streamlined, application process. ”
It is thought that BNOs will be eligible to travel to the UK immediately ahead of the details of the scheme, which is due to be finalised “in the coming weeks.”
It is not anticipated that people will face salary thresholds and, as yet, there is no information about what other requirements would be made of applicants such as financial or English language requirements.
There is likely to be a visa fee to pay for the applicant and any dependents, although the amount has yet to be confirmed, as well as the immigration health surcharge which is £624 per year per person (from October 2020).