Since the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, countries around the world have introduced immigration schemes to attract and retain highly-skilled Hong Kong talents.
With a new array of immigration options to choose from, some may find it difficult navigating migration processes and finding an immigration pathway that best fits their needs and profiles.
In this article, we will demystify the key immigration schemes unveiled to Hong Kongers and provide a practical guide to help those holding a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ("HKSAR") and/or British National (Overseas) ("BNO") passport select an appropriate pathway to immigrate abroad.
United Kingdom British National (Overseas) Visa program
On 31 January 2021, millions of Hong Kong people were offered an immigration route to the United Kingdom ("UK") through the BNO visa program. The program not only permits BNOs residing in Hong Kong or UK the opportunity to apply for a 5-year visa to live, work, and study in the UK, it also offers qualifying BNOs the opportunity to bring their families and/or relatives to the UK. Notably, one may apply for "indefinite leave to remain" (i.e. permanent residence) in the UK after holding a BNO visa for 5 years, provided that he meets the residency requirements specified by the British government.
Given the simplicity of the BNO visa program, the program has become a popular choice for Hong Kongers looking to live, work, and study in the UK. According to the statistics issued by the British government, the Home Office has received about 103,900 applications from Hong Kongers within a year of launching the BNO visa program, indicating a level of interest that is broadly in line with the British government's estimate prior to the program launch.
With the British government's recent announcement that non-BNO Hong Kongers born on or after July 1, 1997 with at least one BNO parent may soon be allowed to apply for a BNO visa independently of their parents, we believe more people would be interested in exploring the BNO visa program as an option for immigrating abroad in the coming year.
Canada open work permit program for recent graduates and Canada permanent resident pathways for in-Canada Hong Kong residents
Aside from the UK, Canada is also becoming a popular immigration destination for Hong Kongers. In 2020 alone, about CAD 43.6 billion of capital outflow from Hong Kong to Canada in electronic fund transfer was recorded. Canada also recorded a 10% increase in immigration applications, excluding visitor visa applications, from Hong Kong in 2020, indicating that Hong Kongers' interest in relocating to Canada did not wane even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
To further attract talents from Hong Kong, the Canadian government launched two new immigration pathways to Hong Kongers in 2021. The first program ("Open Work Permit Program") offer those graduated from qualifying post-secondary programs within 5 years the opportunity to secure a 3-year open work permit to work in Canada, whereas the second program ("Stream A/ Stream B Permanent Residence Program") aims to offer permanent residence to any in-Canada Hong Kongers who are recent post-secondary graduates of Canada or who have completed qualifying post-secondary studies within 5 years, and have gained at least one year full-time Canadian work experience (or its equivalent in part-time hours) within 3 years before applying for permanent residence under this program.
Within 3 months of launching the Open Work Permit Program, Canada has received nearly 6000 applications from Hong Kongers. We expect this trend to continue in 2022, as an increasing number of young graduates from Hong Kong consider relocating to Canada to embark on a new chapter in life.
Australia permanent residence programs for in-Australia Hong Kong residents
Aside from the above-mentioned programs, Australia also launched two permanent residence pathways for Hong Kong people on 5 March 2022, which include:
- Subclass 191 ("Subclass 191 Program") - for HKSAR/ BNO passport holders who have resided in Australia for a continuous period of at least three years and who have lived, worked, and studied exclusively in a designated regional area for that period while holding qualifying subclass 457, 482, or 485 visas; and
- Subclass 189 ("Subclass 189 Program") - for HKSAR/ BNO passport holders who have qualifying subclass 457, 482, or 485 visas and have stayed in Australia for a continuous period of at least four years.
It is estimated that about 8,800 Hong Kongers would be eligible to apply for these programs, and we expect to see more Hong Kongers applying for permanent residency in Australia in 2022.
Choosing between the above-mentioned programs
Applicants may wish to consider the eligibility requirements, permanent residence pathway, benefits and opportunities offered by the destination countries when choosing between the above-mentioned options.
Though none of the above-mentioned programs impose a high financial threshold on applicants, some programs require applicants to demonstrate that they have the financial capacity to support the basic needs of their family to qualify. For example, to obtain a 5-year visa under the BNO visa program, a couple with a minor child is expected to pay £8,590 in healthcare surcharge and to submit evidence that they have sufficient funds to support themselves for six months. In contrast, a successful application under the Canada Open Work Permit Program or Stream A / Stream B Permanent Residence Program is not contingent upon the financial capacity of the applicant, making these programs an attractive option for young graduates with limited financial resources.
Additionally, those looking to maintain their mobility freedom may wish to consider the level of residential ties they must establish in securing permanent residence status in their countries of interest when deciding between the above-mentioned immigration options. For example, to qualify for permanent residence in the UK, BNO visa holders must spend 5 continuous years in the UK (i.e. spending no more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12 month period). Similarly, the Australian Subclass 191 Program and Subclass 189 Program require applicants to demonstrate that they have spent respectively a continuous period of 3 years and 4 years in Australia to qualify for permanent residence. On the other hand, the Canadian government simply requires that applicants under the Stream A / Stream B Permanent Residence Program demonstrate a link to Canada by working for a year in Canada or completing eligible post-secondary programs in Canada to qualify for permanent residence. For this reason, the time and residence commitment required for securing permanent residence in Canada may be considerably less as compared to the programs offered by the British and Australian governments.
Those interested in moving to Canada via its Open Work Permit Program or Stream A / Stream B Permanent Residence Program should note that these programs are only available for a limited period of time. The Open Work Permit Program, for example, is set to expire on February 7, 2023, whereas the Stream A / Stream B Permanent Residence Program is only available till August 31, 2026. In other words, to qualify for these programs, one must secure the required education background and/or work experiences prior to the expiry of these programs.
Finally, applicants may also wish to consider the comparative welfare and benefits offered by their countries of interest when immigrating abroad. Whilst the British government unveiled a £43 million package to help new arrivals from Hong Kong access housing, work and educational support in the UK, Canada also offers a range of healthcare benefits, education support, and community-based programs, such as on-arrival orientation services and assistance in emergency and at-risk situations, to help qualifying temporary residents settle in Canada. The situation in Australia, however, is quite different, as new migrants to Australia are subjected to a four-year wait before they may access government benefits starting January 2022.
Together, not all programs are created equal and one must carefully evaluate a range of factors when choosing a suitable immigration pathway. As an international law firm with over 30 years of experience in the practice of business and immigration law, we, Harvey Law Group, understand the lasting impact of immigration decisions on people's lives and we are here to help.
If you are a Hong Kong resident and you would like further advice or information on the UK BNO visa program, Canada Open Work Permit Program, Canada Stream A / Stream B Permanent Residence Program, or Australia Subclass 191 Program and Subclass 189 Program, please contact our immigration lawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.