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Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Visas - What Employers Need to Know

on Friday, 26 February 2021.

On 31 January 2021, the UK launched a new immigration category - the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) route.

This category allows British Nationals (Overseas) (BNO) citizens who are resident in Hong Kong or the UK and their families to settle in the UK.

It is anticipated that a large number of families will apply under this scheme, so it is highly likely to be a category that employers will come across. So what is the BNO visa and how will it affect employers?

What Is the BNO Visa and Why Has it Been Introduced?

When control of Hong Kong was handed back from the UK to China in 1997, the UK created a new citizenship status, BNO citizenship, for those Hong Kong residents who wished to maintain ties to the UK. It is estimated that approximately 2.8 million of Hong Kong's 7.5 million residents hold BNO citizenship.

Before now, the benefits of BNO citizenship were fairly limited, but that has now changed. As we reported in July 2020, the British Government has introduced the Hong Kong BNO visa in response to new national security laws imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese Government. The UK has declared those laws to be a breach of the Joint Declaration between the UK and China when control of Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997. The introduction of the Hong Kong BNO visa allows Hong Kong residents and their family members to relocate to the UK.

The BNO visa:

  • allows BNO citizens and their family members to live, work and study in the UK
  • is open to BNO citizens whose permanent home is in Hong Kong, the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man
  • allows the BNO citizen to be accompanied by their family members (see below)
  • can be issued for 2.5 or 5 years and leads to settlement after 5 years

Unlike most UK immigration categories, the definition of family member is very broad and includes the BNO citizen's:

  • spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner
  • child or grandchild under the age of 18
  • children aged over 18 who normally live with the BNO citizen plus their partner and children aged under 18
  • other close relatives (parent, grandparent, brother, sister or child) who are part of their household and dependent on them for their care

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Permission to Work in the UK

BNO visa holders and their family members will have an unrestricted right to work in the UK so can take any employment, start a business, set themselves up in self-employment or work as a contractor. Given the number of Hong Kong residents expected to be granted this visa, the Government has published a guide for employers on employing BNO citizens. This guide confirms that:

  • BNO citizens and their family members granted 'Leave Outside the Rules' at the UK border before the BNO visa officially launched on 31 January 2021 will also have the right to work in the UK
  • when conducting pre-employment checks employers can accept the six-month stamp in those BNO citizens' passports as proof of their right to work - the stamp restricts access to public funds but does not restrict the individual's ability to work
  • now that the BNO visa route has opened applicants and their dependants will be granted longer-term visas that also permit them to work

When is a Visa not a Visa?

The Government has also announced that applicants with certain biometric passports can apply from a smartphone app which scans their passport and verifies their identity. This will mean that they do not need to attend a visa application centre. 

Successful applicants who use the app will not have their passports endorsed with a visa or be issued with a biometric residence permit (BRP). Instead, their immigration status will only be available online and will be shared electronically with employers, landlords and other organisations who need to check immigration status.

Applicants with passports that cannot be read by the app will need to attend a visa application centre and will have their immigration status endorsed in their passport and on a BRP.

The Government's objective is that, in time, all immigration status will be digitised so employers will need to start to become familiar with checking digital immigration when conducting right to work checks, in addition to being familiar with the physical documents which can be presented as proof of immigration status or nationality.

If you need advice or assistance on employing BN(O) visa holders and their dependents, please contact Tom Brett Young in our Immigration team on 07393 148352, or complete the form below.

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