Westminster has confirmed that the UK Home Office will create a new visa scheme for British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders and their dependants to relocate to the UK. This is in response to China pressing ahead with new security laws that strip Hong Kong citizens of what could deemed to be "traditional freedoms".

The new visa route will allow BNO's to apply for a 5-year visa allowing them to come to the UK to live, work or study. At the end of the 5 period, BNO visa holders will be eligible to apply for settlement in the UK. One year after obtaining settlement, they will then be able to naturalise as a British citizen.

Figures estimate there to be around 350,000 BNO passport holders and approximately a further 2.5 million Hong Kong citizens that would be eligible to apply for a BNO passport. Currant arrangements suggest that only people who have a BNO passport can proceed to apply under the new scheme. However, Boris Johnson indicated just last month that the scheme would be open to everyone who is eligible for a BNO passport. This could see any number up to 2.5 million people first requiring to apply for a BNO passport to qualify for the new visa scheme.

There are some contradictions in what is coming out of Westminster at this moment of time. In the Commons on Tuesday, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, implied the offer was available only to the narrower group of existing BNO passport holders stressing the Government needed to be realistic about what it could offer. However, writing in the Times on Wednesday, Boris Johnson appeared to make a far wider offer to all those eligible to hold a BNO passport.

Further clarification will take place in the coming weeks. When the new scheme is introduced this will provide a new route for relocation to the UK for many Hong Kong citizens. Some concerns still surround a set of people who may not meet the eligibility criteria for a BNO passport such as younger people who protested over the past year many of whom were arrested and feared further charges under the national security laws.

This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact our Immigration team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.

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