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New UK Visa Category for Hong Kong Residents - What Has Been Proposed?

on Friday, 17 July 2020.

The UK Government has announced that an 'unprecedented' extension of immigration rights will be put in place for route which will allow many residents of Hong Kong.

This article outlines why is this step is being taken and who will benefit.

How Did This Come About?

Following months of protests and civil unrest in Hong Kong, China has announced a new national security law will be imposed on the former British colony. In response, the British Government have declared this change to be a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration agreed between the countries which governed the transfer of control of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The UK Government have therefore pledged to protect Hong Kong residents by extending UK residence rights for those residents of Hong Kong who have registered as British National (Overseas) citizens.

Who is a British National (Overseas) Citizen?

Prior to the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to China in 1997 the majority of Hong Kong residents would have been British Dependent Territory citizens. Following transfer of sovereignty, most of those Hong Kong residents became Chinese citizens (entitled to a special 'Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. passport). However, those who also wanted to maintain ties to the UK could apply to register for a new status known as British National (Overseas).

The final deadline for registering was 1 July 1997. Therefore individuals who do not already hold this status are no longer able to apply to become one. However, it is estimated that approximately 2.8 million of Hong Kong's 7.5 million residents hold British National (Overseas) citizenship.
British National (Overseas) citizens currently enjoy the following rights:

  • To hold a British passport (albeit one that does not permit them to live or work in the UK and they are not recognised as UK nationals within the European Union)
  • To visit the UK for up to six months at a time without a visa
  • To receive consular assistance and diplomatic protection (although not in China or its special administrative regions)

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Proposed Rules

Under the proposed arrangements, British National (Overseas) citizens and their dependants who reside in Hong Kong will be eligible to apply for a visa which will give them:

  • 5 years' limited leave to remain, with the right to work or study in the UK
  • an entitlement to apply for settled status ('indefinite leave to remain') after five years in the UK with that visa
  • the possibility of applying to become a full British citizen after a further 12 months with settled status

It would also appear that holders of these visas (and their dependants) will be permitted to work in a self-employed capacity in the UK, or set up and run businesses.

What Do Employers Need to Consider?

At the time of writing, the UK Government have not provided further detail on how or when the scheme will come into operation. Employers considering hiring workers from Hong Kong may wish to wait to see whether those workers might qualify under this route and many holders of British National (Overseas) passports will be keenly awaiting details of how to apply.

For specialist legal advice on the new immigration rules for British National (Overseas) citizens, please contact Tom Brett Young in our Immigration team on 07393 148352, or complete the form below.

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