The Hong Kong British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) visa has officially opened for applications on 31 January 2021. Given the circumstances surrounding the introduction of the BN(O) visa, it is quite understandable that applicants may still have questions about this visa route and personal considerations on applying.

In this blog we answer some of your most frequently asked questions about the BN(O) visa to help you consider whether this is the right UK visa path for you and your family. Our earlier blog also details the key highlights of the visa.

How long will I be able to stay in the UK on a BN(O) visa?

When applying for the BN(O) visa, you will have the option of applying for either a 2.5-year visa or a 5-year visa. Any dependants applying alongside you will be able granted a visa for the same amount of time as you.

If you (and your dependents) initially apply for a 2.5-year BN(O) visa, you will need to apply for an extension before your leave expires and meet the requirements in order to continue your stay in the UK. On a successful extension, you will be granted a further 2.5 years leave in the UK. This should then take you to 5 years leave in the UK to apply for settlement (indefinite leave to remain –ILR).

What documents will I receive when my BN(O) visa is approved?

If you are applying from outside the UK, once your BN(O) visa is approved, you will receive a visa vignette endorsed in your passport. The visa vignette is usually valid for 30 days from the date you intend to arrive in the UK (where you will have indicated on your application form) or the date when your application is approved (whichever date is later). You are required to travel to the UK within 30 days. If you do not enter the UK during the 30 days, in normal circumstances you would need to re-apply, but due to the coronavirus pandemic causing travel disruptions, it is possible to apply for a replacement visa if you cannot travel to the UK within these 30 days. Once you arrive in the UK, you will need to collect your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), a card which confirms the full validity of your visa and your right to live, study and work in the UK.

If you are applying from within the UK, you will not have a visa vignette endorsed in your passport and instead, you will only be issued with a BRP card when your application is approved.

Can BN(O) holders who are already in the UK apply for the BN(O) visa from within the UK?

Those BN(O) holders who are already living in the UK under a long-term visa (other than short term visas, such as a visitor visa) will be able to apply to switch into the BN(O) visa route from within the UK. There are some benefits to this, mainly the BN(O) route leads to settlement and you can combine any time you have already spent in the UK towards the 5 years settlement period, provided you meet the continuous residence requirement – this is typically the requirement to not have been absent from the UK for more than 180 days in any 12 month period.

Some BN(O) holders may have already entered the UK when the BN(O) visa scheme was announced and sought ‘Leave Outside the Rules’ on entry, which is valid for 6 months typically. Those applicants will be able to apply and switch to the official BN(O) route once it opens.

As BN(O) holders can travel to visit the UK visa free, there may be some BN(O) holders here in the UK as visitors. There is a requirement that those BN(O) applicants applying from within the UK must be ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK or Hong Kong on the date of application. If you are only visiting the UK but usually live in Hong Kong, this should not be a problem for you to evidence your ‘ordinary residence’ is Hong Kong to apply. However, if you do not usually live in Hong Kong and are only visiting the UK short term, there is an argument as to whether you are deemed ‘ordinarily resident’ in the UK since visit visas are not long term visas.

I will need to take a Tuberculosis test but do I need to present my BN(O) passport at the medical examination?

One of the requirements of the BN(O) visa is that applicants must have a valid medical certification confirming that they (and any dependents applying at the same time) are free of Tuberculosis, if they are applying to enter the UK from one of the listed countries (listed here). Hong Kong is on this list.

In addition, some applicants who are applying from within the UK will need to take a TB test if their last grant of leave were for a period of less than 6 months. The UK Government has created a specific webpage these BN(O) visa applicants (which can be found here).

Regardless of which country you are taking the TB test, applicants are only required to bring a form of photographic identification (such as your passport) to undergo the medical examination. There is no requirement that you must bring your BN(O) passport to have your TB test in order to apply for the BN(O) visa. Therefore, it is possible to undergo your TB test with your HKSAR passport (particularly if your BN(O) passport has expired) provided the name is the same on both documents.

I am over the age of 18 but my parents are BN(O) citizens, can I apply?

Adult children who live under the same household as their BN(O) citizen parent can apply under the BN(O) visa route (called the BN(O) Household Member route), provided that the BN(O) citizen parent has successfully applied as a BN(O) Status Holder or is applying at the same time. The spouse/partner and children of the adult child can also apply. This is a key benefit of the BN(O) visa route as many other immigration categories would not typically allow for the family unit of an adult child to apply with a main applicant – the BN(O) Status Holder.

Therefore, it is possible for a family of three generations to apply and relocate to the UK on the BN(O) visa route, provided a grandparent is a BN(O) citizen and the whole family lives in the same household in Hong Kong.

Can my children obtain settlement (indefinite leave to remain – ILR) if I do not qualify for settlement?

The general rule is that, in order for a child to qualify for ILR, both parents must have obtained ILR or be applying for ILR at the same time as the child. The child would not be granted ILR unless both parents’ ILR applications are successful.

Children do not need to meet the continuous residence requirement, so they do not need to count their absences from the UK to qualify for ILR. However, the absence requirement is applicable to both parents in that they must not spend more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12 month period in the 5 year period preceding their ILR application. So if both the parents do not spend a sufficient amount of time in the UK to meet the absence requirement for ILR, the child will not be granted ILR.

Where any ILR requirements are not met, it is possible to continue to extend the BN(O) visa until you qualify for ILR. There is currently no indication of any limit to the number of extension applications you can make. Therefore, if it is your intention for the child to get ILR, parents should plan their absences from the UK accordingly. With good immigration planning, it may be possible for the child to apply for ILR on a different basis, but it would likely still require at least one parent to qualify for ILR and it would also depend on the family’s circumstances so it may not work in all cases.

Can I lose my settlement status (indefinite leave to remain – ILR)?

Yes, it is possible to lose your ILR if you spend more than 2 years outside the UK in one continuous period. In those circumstances, your ILR will lapse and it can only be reinstated in limited circumstances.

In addition, you may also put your ILR status at risk if you take up residence outside the UK even if it is for less than 2 years. This is because when you enter the UK, you are required to satisfy the Immigration Officer every time you enter the UK that you are returning to the UK to resume your normal and habitual residence in the UK. If it becomes clear to the Immigration Officer that you are no longer living in the UK and you are basing yourself abroad on a permanent basis, then the Immigration Officer can cancel your ILR.

Do I have to apply for British citizenship on the BN(O) visa route?

The BN(O) route is a path that leads to British citizenship but there is no requirement that you must apply for British citizenship. The BN(O) route leads to settlement (indefinite leave to remain – ILR) and applicants who have spent 5 years living in the UK are eligible to apply for ILR. Typically, applicants who have held ILR for a further 12 months are eligible to apply for British citizenship.

However, you are not required to apply for British citizenship at this stage if you do not want to. Some applicants may wish to apply for British citizenship at the earliest opportunity while others may never want to apply for British citizenship or prefer to apply for British citizenship at a later time. Provided you meet the requirements for British citizenship and hold ILR for more than 12 months by the time you apply, then it is your choice as to when you want to apply for British citizenship. The key is ensuring you do not lose your ILR.

If I don’t apply for British citizenship, can my child apply for British citizenship?

If your child (under 18) was not born in the UK, it is usually a requirement that both parents and the child must hold ILR before the child can apply to register as British (unless only one parent is solely responsible for the child’s upbringing). In most circumstances, it is expected that at least one parent holds British citizenship or is applying for British citizenship at the same time as the child. Therefore, it may not be possible for your child to be registered as British if you are not applying for British citizenship at the same time as your child. It is only in limited circumstances that a child may apply without a parent also applying for British citizenship, such as cases where the child has already spent at least 10 years in the UK and is aged 16 or over.

If you do not wish to apply for British citizenship but want your child to apply for British citizenship, the alternative is for the child to wait until they are 18 and apply in their own right. They will be subject to the requirements to naturalise as a British citizen, such as meeting the absence requirement, passing the Life in the UK test and meeting the English language requirement, in addition to other criteria.

I have a BN(O) passport but I do not want to apply for the BN(O) visa, do I have any other UK visa options?

If you’re looking to come as a family, these are some of the options:

  • Tier 1 (Investor) visa – if you have at least £2 million GBP available to invest in the UK;
  • Skilled Worker sponsorship visa – if you have secured employment in the UK and your employer holds a sponsor licence to sponsor you to work in the UK;
  • Start-up or Innovator visa – if you have an innovative, viable and scalable business idea, you can apply for an endorsement from one of the Home Office approved Endorsing Bodies to come to the UK;
  • Global Talent visa – for emerging or recognised leaders in the field of arts and culture (including fashion, architecture and film and television); science and medicine; engineering; humanities; digital technology (through Tech Nation); or research an innovation, you can apply for an endorsement from one of the Home Office approved Endorsing Bodies to come to the UK.
  • Representative of an overseas business (sole representative) visa – if you are a senior employee of an overseas company where the business has not already established a UK branch or a wholly owned subsidiary, you can apply on the basis that you are assigned by the overseas company to establish a UK branch or subsidiary. You can also apply if you are an employee of a newspaper, news agency or broadcasting organisation overseas and you are posted on a long term assignment in the UK.
  • Family settlement visa - if your spouse or partner of two years is a British citizen, you can apply under the family settlement visa category.

We can provide further information relating to these alternative visa routes.