Whilst we have seen quite a lot of coverage about China in the media recently, there hasn’t been much talk lately about the UK’s new BNO (British National Overseas) visa route for Hong Kongers.

A New Visa Route

Many people in Hong Kong known as ‘British Overseas Territories Citizens’ registered as ‘British Nationals Overseas’ (BNO) before the UK’s handover of Hong Kong to China on 1 July, 1997.

BNOs hold British passports, get consular assistance and protection from UK diplomatic posts, but are subject to immigration controls and do not have the automatic right to live or work in the UK. I found it very surprising, moreover, that they are not considered UK nationals by the European Union.

The UK launched the BNO visa route on the 31st January, 2021 with a digital application process on 23 February, 2021. The visa does not cover those who have BNO status and entered the UK through other immigration routes, such as the points-based system, youth mobility scheme, as a student, or as a visitor.

Numbers of People

The UK government estimates that a staggering 2.9 million BNO status holders are eligible to move to the UK, with a further estimated 2.3 million eligible dependants. There is no quota on numbers allowed into the UK. In reality though, the government estimates that 123,000 to 153,000 BNO status holders and their dependants could take up the route in its first year, with between 258,000 and 322,000 over 5 years.

Thankfully, the UK government does not wish to split families so children of BNO born after 1 July 1997 will be able to apply with their BNO parents. However, young people are among the most targeted in Hong Kong due to participation in pro-democracy protests. They are also among the most vulnerable, particularly if they are estranged from their families because of their political opinions. They are also likely to have limited financial means. There have been calls for the government to extend the BNO scheme to enable a young person with a BNO parent to apply separately, provided there is evidence of that parent’s status.

To date, there have been 64,900 applications for the BNO route. Interestingly, 25,600 of these have been out-of-country applications, presumably by Hong Kongers residing outside of Hong Kong. In a stern response, China has said it no longer recognises the British National (Overseas) passport and it remains to be seen how this will work out for Hong Kongers actually being allowed to exit Hong Kong.

Time and Cost

The BNO visa route allows BNOs and eligible family members to apply for up to 5 years’ ‘Leave to Remain’ (with the right to live, study and work). After 5 years, they can apply for settlement (also known as ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’). After a further 12 months, they will be able to apply for citizenship.

A five-year visa costs £250 per person. Applicants will also be able to apply for a 30-month visa which costs £180 per person. Hong Kongers also need to pay for an NHS surcharge which costs £1,560 for 30 months and £3,120 for 5 years (less for children).

Welcome Hubs

There are 12 new ‘Welcome Hubs’ for Hong Kongers across the UK. However, these are simply geographical areas represented by a website rather than a physical building with staff. Quite shockingly, the East Midlands and Northern Ireland Welcome Hub websites had nothing specific about, or for, people from Hong Kong. The Scottish website only had some brief info about the visa itself and an email contact. The South West website advertised a drop-in session but nothing else. To date, not one of these Welcome Hubs has responded to my email querying the lack of Hong Kong information. Luckily, some Welcome Hubs, such as London’s, have much more information. Why not explore a Welcome Hub website near you? (see Further Reading).

Opportunity for the Church

Although Hong Kongers on the BNO visa route are not refugees as such, there is still an incredible opportunity for the Church to extend a warm welcome, particularly as some of the Welcome Hubs are to be blunt, unfit for purpose.

One huge opportunity is food and hospitality as one of the major culture shocks identified by Hong Kongers residing in the UK is not being able to rely on take-away food, which although available in the UK, would result in huge food bills. Why not organise a food parcel, trip to a restaurant, or invitation for a cooked meal to the Hong Kongers we will inevitably meet in the coming months?

Further Reading

https://welcomechurches.org/updates/hong-kong-ready-churches/ (Accessed 30 Nov 21)

https://ukhk.org/en (Accessed 30 Nov 21) Excellent, dual-language resource for education, work, and churches.

UK Government Policy Documents

Home Office Media Factsheet: Hong Kong BN(O) Visa route.



UK Welcome Hubs

Migration Yorkshire – https://www.migrationyorkshire.org.uk/?page=hong-kong-bno-hub

West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnerships – website under maintenance (https://www.wmsmp.org.uk/)

Wales Strategic Migration Partnerships – https://www.wlga.wales/hong-kong-bno-visa-scheme-wales

South West Strategic Migration Partnerships – No specific info. Drop-in session advertised. (https://swcouncils.gov.uk/events/hong-kong-british-nationals-overseas-virtual-drop-in-session-2/)

South East Strategic Migration Partnerships – https://southeastspm.org.uk/hk-bnos/information-for-people-from-hong-kong/

COSLA (Scotland) Strategic Migration Partnerships – http://www.migrationscotland.org.uk/hong-kong (just an email contact and some fact about the BNO visa route).

Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnerships – No info on website for Hong Kong info (https://www.nilga.org/nilga-networks/strategic-migration-partnership)

North West Strategic Migration Partnerships – https://northwestrsmp.org.uk/hong-kong-bno/

North East Strategic Migration Partnerships – https://www.nemp.org.uk/hk/

London Strategic Migration Partnerships – https://www.london.gov.uk/search?s=hong%20kong

East Midlands Strategic Migration Partnerships – nothing specific on HK people (https://www.emcouncils.gov.uk/bespoke/search.aspx?term=Hong%20Kong)

East of England Strategic Migration Partnerships – https://smp.eelga.gov.uk/hk-hub/


Written by Daniel Whetham
Area Developer for Manchester
February 2021