[This article was published in July 2020. An update is underway.]
[Updated on July 24, 2020]
The British government announced on July 22 that starting from January 2021, Hong Kong citizens who qualify as British Nationals Overseas (BNOs) can apply for the new Hong Kong BNO visa, which would entitle its holders to stay in the U.K. for five years.
Immediate family members (defined as a spouse or partner and children aged under 18) of BNOs are also eligible to apply, even if they do not qualify as BNOs themselves. After five years, BNO visa holders can apply to settle in the U.K. They can apply for permanent residency after another year.
Besides qualifying for the BNO, visa applicants must:
- Ordinarily reside in Hong Kong
- Commit to learning English
- Be financially capable of residing in the U.K. for at least six months
- Hold a current tuberculosis test certificate from a clinic approved by the U.K. Home Office
The U.K. Home Office also has the discretion to grant a visa to adult dependents of BNO status holders.
In addition, applicants cannot have any “serious criminal convictions” or have engaged in behavior which the U.K. government deems “not conducive to the public good.”
It is unknown whether the U.K. government will take into consideration convictions related to the social movement.
During the five-year stay, applicants can study or work, but they are not eligible for social welfare benefits.
On July 23, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the U.K.’s policy, describing it as a violation of international law and international relations norms and interfering in China’s internal affairs.
The Ministry said the U.K.’s move involved reneging on its promise in the memorandum exchanged between China and the U.K. before the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, in which the U.K. said BNO passport holders would not be given the right of abode in the U.K.
As retaliation, China said it is considering not recognizing BNO passports as valid travel documents.
[Updated on July 2, 2020]
In response to the new National Security Law in Hong Kong, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on July 1 that the U.K. would allow British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders to remain in the country for five years with the right to work and study and the option to apply for citizenship thereafter.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson later stated that the privilege will be extended to the dependents of BNO passport holders, which includes their spouses and underaged children, giving more than three million Hong Kongers a path to citizenship. Whether the dependents are allowed to work or study is yet to be confirmed.
The U.K. Foreign Office said further details will be announced in due course. Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the U.K., condemned the move and the Chinese government threatened retaliations against Britain but no specific measures have been announced.
[The following part was published on June 15, 2020]
What is a BNO passport? What are the differences between BNO and British passports?
According to a memorandum of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, a British National Overseas (BNO) passport is a travel document that does not include citizenship.
A BNO passport holder can hold an HKSAR passport at the same time. As a BNO only serves as a travel document, it does not affect the rights of a permanent Hong Kong resident.
In the U.K., BNO passport holders are subject to immigration controls and do not have the automatic right to live or work in the U.K., unlike British passport holders. BNO passport holders are not considered U.K. nationals by the European Union (EU).
Yet holders of this travel document are eligible for consular assistance and protection from U.K. diplomatic posts in regions outside Hong Kong and Mainland China. If a BNO passport holder resides in the U.K., they are also entitled to the right to vote in that country.
How many people in Hong Kong hold BNO passports?
According to data released by the British government, there were 349,881 BNO passport holders in Hong Kong as of February 2020.
The total number of BNOs in Hong Kong, however, is estimated to be 2.9 million including those who do not currently hold a BNO passport but are eligible to apply for one or renew an expired one.
If my parents are BNO holders, can I apply for BNO as well?
[No longer true. Please read the update on top of this article]
People born after July 1, 1997, are not eligible to apply even if their parents are BNO passport holders.
The offspring of BNO passport holders can acquire the same status only 1) they were born before July 1, 1997, and 2) they were registered on either of their parents’ BNOs as an “included child.”
If these two requirements are met, eligible Hong Kong citizens can apply for or renew a BNO through the U.K. government’s online application system.
If my BNO has already expired, can I still renew?
BNO is a lifelong status that is not transmissible or inheritable.
If someone has obtained a BNO, he or she can renew anytime in their lifetime through the U.K. government’s online application system despite how long the passport has been expired.
The cost of a 10-year passport is at least £105 (approximately HK$1000). However, if one renounces the BNO status, he or she can never apply again.
What is the origin of the BNO?
The BNO passport was first issued in 1987 to replace the British Dependent Territories Citizens (BDTC) passport.
According to a memorandum of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, BNO passport holders or those who are included in a passport are entitled to retain the BNO passport as a travel document.
Those who were born in Hong Kong before July 1, 1997, could apply for a BNO before Sept. 31, 1997, according to the Hong Kong (British Nationality) (Amendment) Order 1993, but the final issue date might be as late as the end of 1997 since at the time Hong Kong also accepted applications transferred from overseas countries.
Are government officials in Hong Kong allowed to have a BNO?
It’s not prohibited by law for a government official to hold a BNO passport.
Article 44 and 71 of the Basic Law only state that the Chief Executive of HKSAR and the President of the Legco should have “no right of abode in any foreign country,” but the BNO passport does not grant the holder the right to abode in the U.K. at the moment.
Didn’t U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson say the privileges of BNO holders will be extended to include the right to abode?
[No longer relevant. Please read the update on top of this article]
In light of the proposal of the national security law in Hong Kong, the British government has expressed explicitly that they will extend the privileges of BNO holders.
In an opinion piece published in the SCMP and the Times of London on June 3, Boris Johnson wrote that the British government will amend the immigration rules to allow Hong Kong holders of these passports to come to the U.K. for a renewable period of 12 months.
Johnson also said BNO holders would be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship.
How did China react?
In response to the British prime minister’s remarks, rumors about the Chinese government’s sanctions against BNO holders were widely shared on social media.
Many posts quoted an “anonymous political source” from Oriental Daily and speculated the Chinese Communist Party will penalize BNO holders by depriving them of their Hong Kong citizenship, right to abode, and voting rights.
However, these rumors have no solid standing. As of June 9, the Chinese government has not retaliated against BNO passport holders and has only stated that it “reserves the right to take corresponding measures.”