Immigration Path Potentially Allowing 2.9 million Hong Kong Citizens A Route to British Citizenship

11th June 2020 Immigration

The National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China (NPC) has approved Hong Kong National Security Law on 28 May 2020, with 2,878 voting for the proposal and only one delegate voting against. The law will broaden Beijing's power over Hong Kong and undermine Hong Kong's autonomy, freedoms and prosperity that it presently enjoys under "one country, two systems".

Last week, on 2 June, our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, responded indicating that Britain will back Hong Kong people "every inch of the way" and will step in if China imposes new security laws. The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, also made a declaration following the NPC's decision that the US no longer considers Hong Kong autonomous from China. 

Our Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab commented last week that Britain would change its immigration rules to offer BNO passport holders in Hong Kong a route to UK citizenship, if China imposes new security laws.

BNO stands for British National (Overseas). The UK government issues BNO passports to Hong Kong people who were born before 1 July 1997, which was when the UK returned the former colony to China. 

As of December 2019, there are around 350,000 people in Hong Kong holding a BNO passport, but there are approximately 2.9 million others who are also eligible for a BNO passport.

BNO passport holders currently only have the right to come to the UK as a visitor for six months; their right at present is similar to that of a US passport holder or an Australian passport holder. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region citizens, under the age of 30, has been allowed to work in the UK for a maximum period of two years under the UK/Hong Kong Youth Mobility Scheme.

If China continues down the path of legislating national security laws and implementing the legislation, our Prime Minister confirms that Britain will change that status. The UK will remove the six-month limit period and allow these BNO passport holders to come to the UK and to apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months and that would itself provide a pathway to future citizenship.

Seeing it in another light, this will essentially enable a route for 2.9 million Hong Kong people to gain citizenship in the UK. Britain will be in close contact with all of its international partners around the world about what steps to take next. We still do not exactly how this route will pan out and what the requirements are. So far, it is unclear how long BNO passport holder must stay in the UK to gain citizenship, and British officials have also not given details about how BNO holders would extend their stays in the UK. What we do know is that now the law has been approved, the NPC's standing committee (the legislators) will draft the law and it is a process that is expected to take about two months. In the meantime, this is a space to watch; however, should you be interested in other types of visas in coming into the UK or setting up your business in the UK, please contact JMW Solicitors to discuss your matter in greater detail.

Our legal team at JMW is able to draw upon the combined skills of the firm's partners in other fields such as Employment Law, Intellectual Property Law and Commercial Property Law in order to provide your businesses with a broad range of comprehensive, commercially practical, added-value legal advice. We also have solicitors at JMW who can speak both Cantonese and Mandarin and will be able to address any queries that you may have.

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Dipesh Shah is a Partner located in London in our Immigration department

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