The British Nationals (Overseas) in Hong Kong visa route (BN(O) visa) opened on 31 January 2021, providing a new visa route for certain British Nationals (overseas) and their families who want to come to the UK. A new smartphone app launched on 23 February to ease the application process. The UK Government has estimated that around 3 million individuals who have BN(O) status and their dependants will be eligible for the visa, with between 123,000-158,000 anticipated to come to the UK during the first year.

UK employers can therefore expect to see BN(O) visa holders applying for jobs in the UK and they may wish to update their recruitment processes accordingly, as well as considering this visa route as an alternative to sponsorship or other visa routes when bringing suitable job applicants to the UK.

Who is eligible for the visa?

In order to apply, the applicant must:

  • be a British National (overseas);
  • be 18 years old or over, and;
  • have their permanent home in Hong Kong, if applying from outside the UK; or in the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man or Hong Kong if applying inside the UK.

They will usually also need to show they have enough money to pay for their housing and support themselves as well as their family for 6 months, although there are certain exemptions from this financial requirement.

Job offers from a new employer may not count towards the financial requirement. There is, however, no minimum salary an employee must earn to qualify. Advice should be sought on the financial requirement and the required supporting documents.

How long is the visa for?

Applicants can apply for either 2 years and 6 months or 5 years. They can extend their visa as many times as they want and may be eligible for settlement after 5 years of continuous lawful residence in the UK in this category, or a combination of this visa category and certain other categories. 

Specific rules on settlement apply, for example in relation to absences from the UK. The rules are subject to change, so should be checked at the time of applying.

How does the application process work?

Applicants must apply online and provide supporting documents. They will need to prove their identity either by using the UK Immigration ID check app to scan their passport or by arranging an appointment at a visa application centre. There is specific guidance about what documents need to be submitted.

Decisions on whether to grant an application can take 12 weeks, or longer in some cases where additional information is required, or the application is complex. Employers should factor in these timescales when seeking to recruit someone eligible for a BN(O) visa.

How much does the visa cost?

The visa costs £180 (for 2 years and 6 months) or £250 (for 5 years) making it much cheaper than many other types of visa, which is a significant benefit.

Applicants will also have to pay the healthcare surcharge, which is generally £624 per year of the visa for adults.

Employers won't have to pay the Immigration Skills Charge for those with a BN(O) visa. This could save some employers around £1,000 per year of the visa, compared to hiring employees under the Skilled Worker route. Employers also don’t need a sponsor licence to recruit individuals with a BN(O) visa.

Can someone work with this type of visa?

Holders of a BN(O) visa can work(except as a professional sportsperson or sports coach). Self-employment and study are also permitted. The visa is flexible as individuals are not tied to a specific job or employer. Therefore, employers may start to see individuals with a BN(O) visa apply for jobs in their organisation.

Can applicants bring family members with them?

Yes. There are detailed rules about which family members are eligible and advice should be sought on a case by case basis. They must usually apply at the same time as the main applicant.

Does the individual have to satisfy an English language requirement or test to qualify for the visa?

There is no English language requirement at the time of applying for the visa, but it will be necessary if applying for settlement after 5 years.

What does this visa route mean for employers? 

UK employers may have individuals with a BN(O) visa (or those who may qualify for one) apply for jobs in their organisation. Therefore they may wish to update their recruitment procedures to ensure that they are not unfairly excluding job applicants who would be able to work in the UK without sponsorship. Employers may also want to upskill their recruitment and HR teams to familiarise themselves with this visa category.

Right to work check procedures may require to be updated to take account of this new visa type. 

Further information is available on the UK Government website. Please note that the rules are complex and subject to change, so legal advice should always be sought from a regulated immigration adviser or solicitor on any specific circumstances.

If you have any queries about any of the issues raised in this blog, please contact Elaine McIlroy, or a member of the Employment & Immigration team.