March 24, 2021

U.K. Launches Fully Digital Application Process for BN(O) Visas

If you’re from Hong Kong and are a British National (Overseas) citizen, you and your family members can apply for a British National (Overseas) visa. The visa will entitle you to live, work and study in the U.K. The visa application process officially opened on 31 January 2021, and you can now apply for the visa using the official U.K. Government smartphone app that launched on 23 February 2021.

What is a British National (overseas) citizen? 

The BN(O) citizen status refers to someone who was a British Overseas Territories citizen (by connection with Hong Kong) that either: (i) registered as a BN(O) citizen before 1 July 1997 or (ii) had no other nationality or citizenship on or before 30 June 1997 and so became a BN(O) citizen automatically. It is no longer possible to register or be granted a BN(O) citizen status.

BN(O) citizens are granted certain rights, such as an entitlement to a British passport and protection from U.K. diplomatic posts. The BN(O) citizen status does not grant automatic rights to live in the U.K. However, it is possible to attain a visa as a BN(O) citizen that will enable you to live, work and study in the U.K. for up to five years with the option to extend your stay in the U.K. by re-applying for a BN(O) visa or by applying for permanent residency. 

Who can apply?

In addition to holding a BN(O) citizen status, applicants must have a permanent address in Hong Kong, the U.K., Channel Islands or Isle of Man. It is not necessary to have a BN(O) passport to apply, however without one the application process may take longer.

Which family members can also apply?

The family members of a BN(O) citizen can apply if they’re considered a “dependent. “Dependents” include immediate family members, such as a spouse, children and grandchildren under 18, and children over 18 that were born after 1 July 1997. Other adult family members can only apply if they are “very dependent” on the BN(O) citizen for their care because of illness or disability. 

Applications for family members must be submitted individually within two days of the BN(O) citizen’s application, including a reference to the Unique Application Number that the BN(O) citizen will receive from their application. 

What is the application process?

All applications must be started using the official U.K. Government app, and if you have a valid BN(O) passport, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) passport or an EEA passport, you can complete the entire application process through the app. If you do not have one of these passports you will need to attend an appointment at a visa application centre to have your fingerprints and photo taken. 

  1. Download the “U.K. Immigration: ID Check” smartphone app (available on iPhone and Android).
  2. Open the app and follow the instructions to scan your biometric passport and enter your information to validate your identity.
  3. Once this is complete, you will receive a digital status that allows you to travel at any time to the U.K.  

What are the advantages of using the digital process?

By using the digital application process, you:

  • Avoid the need to travel to a visa application centre.
  • Easily prove your identity from within your own home.
  • Receive a digital status instead of a vignette. This will allow you to travel to the U.K. at any time.

Can I switch to to a BN(O) visa from within the U.K.?

If you meet the eligibility requirements for a BN(O) visa and are residing in the U.K. on a different visa type, it is possible to switch visa types without having to leave the U.K. by applying through the “U.K. Immigration: ID Check” app. 

If your U.K. visa has expired between 1 July 2020 and 31 January 2021 or your six-month visit ended between 1 July 2020 and 31 January 2021, it will still be possible to apply from within the U.K. provided the application is made by 31 March 2021.

When can a BN(O) visa holder apply for permanent residency in the U.K.?

You can apply for indefinite leave to remain in the U.K. after living in the U.K. on a BN(O) visa for a minimum of five years, without having spent more than 180 days outside the U.K. during any 12-month period of your BN(O) residency. It is possible to include time spent in the U.K. on a variety of other visa types to reach the “indefinite leave to remain” five-year threshold.  After one year of living in the UK on indefinite leave, you can then apply for British Citizenship.

What other visa categories are available to Hong Kong residents who do not qualify for this route?

The Tier Youth Mobility visa is open for Hong Kong SRA passport holders aged 18-30. This visa grants the right to live in the U.K. for up to two years.

Hong Kong residents can also apply for any other work or study visa categories as long as they satisfy the eligibility criteria, such as (selected list):

  • Student visa
  • Skilled Worker Visa
  • Tier 1 visa
  • Start-Up visa
  • Innovation visa
  • Graduate Route visa

What do employers need to know about the BN(O) visa?

U.K. employers may wish to consider the BN(O) visa route as a potential option for transferring suitable job applicants from Hong Kong to the U.K. It may also be necessary to update Right to Work policies and procedures to include the BN(O) visa category.

Will COVID-19 restrictions affect BN(O) visa holders entering the UK?

At the date of this article, every individual arriving in the U.K. from outside the Common Travel Area (U.K., Ireland, Channel Islands and Isle of Man) is required to:

  1. Show proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within three days before departure.
  2. Provide a passenger locator form containing the address of their compulsory ten day post-arrival quarantine.
  3. Book two coronavirus home tests that will need to be taken on day two and day eight of the compulsory post-arrival quarantine.

Any individual arriving in the U.K. from a “red list” country is required to complete their compulsory ten day post-arrival quarantine in a Government-managed hotel. The “red list” is subject to regular changes by the U.K. Government, and so it is advisable that every individual intending to travel to the U.K. reviews the updated “red list” before travelling.

If you require any further assistance, or have any questions regarding your visa application, please get in touch with the Faegre Drinker immigration and global mobility team.

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