From 1 January 2021, a new immigration route to significantly extend the currently limited entitlements to those from Hong Kong who hold British National Overseas (BNO) status is being introduced.  The new route will grant leave for such individuals to live in the UK for up to five years, after which settlement can be applied for if eligible (and then citizenship after a further 12 months).

BNO status is a type of British nationality which was created specifically for citizens of Hong Kong in anticipation of the return of sovereignty to China, to allow them to retain a level of connection the UK after 1 July 1997.  Those with BNO status can apply for and hold a British passport but are not entitled to full UK citizenship rights. Most notably, individuals with this status are presently subject to immigration control and do not automatically have the right to live and work in the UK.  It is estimated that there are around 2.9 million people who hold BNO status, although only around 10-12% of those hold a British passport.

This new immigration route will offer a path to British citizenship without the need to have secured employment or meet certain skills or income thresholds as you would under the Tier 2 sponsorship (which will become the "skilled worker") route.  Applicants will, however, be required to show that they can support themselves financially for up to six months and will be subject to criminality checks, visa fees and the Immigration Health Surcharge.  The decision comes in the wake of China's implementation of new security laws in Hong Kong.  The Government has made clear that those with BNO status are in an unusual position and it does not intend the decision to set a precedent in respect of other immigration routes.

The scheme officially opens on 1 January 2021, although it may also be possible to apply at the border to be granted entry "outside the rules" prior to this date. This will be granted at the Home Office's discretion and only if there are no other immigration routes available.

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