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‘Special UK BNO Visa Scheme for millions of Hong Kong residents’

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    9th Feb, 2021

A visa scheme to allow Hong Kong residents to come to the UK opened recently, with some 300,000 people expected to apply. The visa, which is open to holders of a British National (Overseas) passport and their immediate dependents, will offer a fast track to UK citizenship.


A visa scheme to allow Hong Kong residents to come to the UK opened recently, with some 300,000 people expected to apply. The visa, which is open to holders of a British National (Overseas) passport and their immediate dependents, will offer a fast track to UK citizenship.


  • The move comes as China and Hong Kong have said they will no longer recognize the British National Overseas (BNO) passport as a valid travel document from January 31.
    • BNO is a special status created under British law in 1987 that specifically relates to Hong Kong.
    • They allowed holders to visit the U.K. visa-free for up to six months, but didn’t automatically confer the right to live or work there.
    • Holders also weren’t eligible to access public funds.
  • The scheme is also in a response to Beijing’s decision last year to impose a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong, a former British colony, to snuff out huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests.
  • UK called the imposition of the security law “a serious and clear breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration”.
  • Britain says with the new visa policy, it is fulfilling a historic and moral commitment to Hong Kong people.
  • The UK government forecasts the new visa could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependants to Britain.

National Security Law

  • The law criminalises four activities: “secession, subversion, organization and perpetration of terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”. 
  • The law allows Beijing to override local laws while enhancing its ability to suppress political opposition.
  • It also gives the mainland power to exercise jurisdiction over select criminal cases, raising the prospect that for the first time in Hong Kong's history, suspects could be extradited across the border to face trial, and potentially prison time, in the mainland.


Hong Kong’s British History

  • Hong Kong was previously a port city of the British Empire, and inherited a different society, culture and legal tradition from Mainland China. 
  • As a result, when it was handed back to China under the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration (“1984 Joint Declaration”), the legally binding treaty sought to retain Hong Kong’s way of life, common law legal system and capitalist economy, and guarantee its politico-economic status for 50 years from 1997.
  • But before Hong Kong was returned, the UK and China made an agreement to introduce "one country, two systems".
  • It was agreed that Hong Kong's capitalist system, which was different to China's communist model, would continue.
  • It also meant Hong Kong has its own legal system and borders, and rights such as freedom of assembly, free speech and freedom of the press are protected.
  • It is one of the few places in Chinese territory where people have been able to mark the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, where the military opened fire on unarmed protesters in Beijing.
  • The agreement signed in 1984 was set to last until 2047.
  • But the UK says this agreement - known as the Joint Declaration - is under threat because the territory has passed a new law that gives China sweeping new controls over the people of Hong Kong.
  • The new law came into effect on the 30 Junefollowing months of mass protests.
  • The UK also has an interest in Hong Kong because 300,000 UK nationals live there.

What is BNO Citizenship?

  • British National Overseas (BNO) citizenship is a type of British nationality created in 1985 that people in Hong Kong could apply for before the 1997 handover to China to retain a link with the UK.
  • The lifelong status, which cannot be passed down to family members, did not give holders any special rights.
  • It meant only they could visit the UK for six months without a visa.
  • But the new system, in place from 31 January 2021, allows these BNO citizens and their close family to apply for visa in the UK.

What is in the new law?

  • Under the special visa scheme, the visas will be issued to those in Hong Kong who hold a British National (Overseas) passport and their immediate dependents, and will offer a fast track to UK citizenship.
  • Applicants who get the visa can live and work in the UK for 5 years, after which they apply for settlement.
  • Citizenship: Twelve months after this, they can apply for citizenship.

How many people are expected to come?

  • The British government estimates 5.4 million Hong Kong residents are eligible for the scheme, that's about 72% of its 7.5 million population.
  • These include:
    • 9 million BNOs
    • 3 million dependents of BNOs
    • 187,000 18-23-year-olds with at least one BNO parent
  • It is difficult to say how many eligible people will actually come to the UK.
  • A government report published last year put the number of people expected to take up the offer at about 300,000 in the first five years.

Way forward

It is not clear how many Hong Kongers will take up the offer, especially as the coronavirus restricts global flights and mires much of the world, including Britain, in a painful economic malaise. But a BN(O) passport is available to a huge number of people (about 70 percent of Hong Kong's 7.5 million population), Britain predicts up to 154,000 Hong Kongers could arrive over the next year and as many as 322,000 over five years, bringing an estimated "net benefit" of up to £2.9 billion ($4 billion).


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