The Hong Kong BN(O) Visa – What is it and How Can I Get it?

What is this Visa?

If you’ve been keeping up with the news lately you have undoubtedly heard a lot about China’s relationship with Hong Kong and the controversial new National Security Law it aims to impose upon people living there. The UK considers this law a serious breach of the 1984 Sino-British declaration which also undermines the “one country, two systems” agreement. In response, the UK government has announced it will create a bespoke immigration route which will allow British National (Overseas) citizens who live in Hong Kong to move to the UK with their family to work and study.

If you are not familiar with the intricacies of immigration law or the UK’s role in Hong Kong’s history you might wonder exactly what being a British National (Overseas) citizen means, and why there are so many of them in Hong Kong. To explain simply and without derailing this blog into a long historical thesis is difficult, but in short BN(O) was a nationality status opened to people living in some British Dependent Territories as a result of these locations’ historical ties with the UK. These individuals have no automatic right of residence and have traditionally had to apply for entry clearance in the same way as other non-EU nationals. This new visa greatly increases the immigration rights associated with being a British National (Overseas) citizen in Hong Kong, allowing people with this status to migrate to the UK without a job offer or sponsor.

Who Can Apply?

British National (Overseas) citizens who are normally resident in Hong Kong as well as their immediate family. This can include a spouse, unmarried partner, dependent child and ‘other family members where they can show there is a high level of dependency’. Unmarried partners will have to show evidence they have been living together in a ‘relationship similar to a marriage or civil partnership’ for at least 2 years. This will likely involve providing documents such as tenancy agreements or utility bills in both parties’ names.

Applicants will also need to show a commitment to learning English if they do not already have a good command of the language, as well as be willing to pay an application fee and an Immigration Health Surcharge of £624 a year.

What Can I Do in the UK?

You will be able to work and study in the UK and at this point no restrictions have been announced on the type of work or study you will be permitted to undertake.

You will not be allowed to use any public funds until you achieve Indefinite Leave to Remain or full British Citizenship. You will also have to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge of £624 a year in order to access the NHS (£400 if you enter on this route outside the rules before October 2020).

Can I Live Here Permanently?

Yes, this visa will offer a route to permanent residency after 5 years continuous residence in the UK, and citizenship after 1 year of permanent residency.

When Will Applications Open?

This route will be officially open from January 2021, made available at the same time as the government’s new points-based system.

What if I Want to Come Now?

The government has issued guidance for those who wish to come to the UK before the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa is available. If you are not eligible under any existing paths it may be possible for you to apply at the UK border for a period of 6 months ‘Leave Outside the Rules’. You will be able to apply with dependants and will need to show your identity, your BN(O) citizen status, that you normally live in Hong Kong, and that you can support yourself financially.

This route might be of interest to anybody who feels like they may be in immediate danger as the result of the new law. In order to prove your residence in Hong Kong you should bring documents to the border with you such as a voter’s card, identity card, letter from the local council, medical card etc. and make it clear that you are intending to make an application outside of the rules as a British National (Overseas) Citizen from Hong Kong.

What Documents Will be Needed?

You will need to provide:

  • A valid passport (Does not need to be a BN(O) passport).
  • Documentation to prove your BN(O) status. This can include an expired or current passport.
  • Evidence you normally reside in Hong Kong.
  • Evidence you can support yourself financially for at least 6 months (there is no guidance at present on how much would be required to satisfy this).
  • A TB test from a clinic approved by the Home Office.

 

If you are interested in this route, or need other immigration advice, we can help. Email us at [email protected] or call us on 01403 801 801 for a consultation.

The New Health and Care Visa – A lifeline for care homes or just more lip service?

What’s the Problem?

One of the biggest questions around the end of free movement from January 2021 has been how the government will mitigate a potential labour shortage in the healthcare sector given that many care workers and other healthcare staff do not earn enough to be eligible under the proposed ‘points-based system’, which has a minimum salary threshold of £20,408 (For more information see our previous blog). These roles have previously been filled by EU migrants exercising their right to free movement, but with this ending in January 2021 the question of who will fill the gap has plagued the government.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has previously suggested mobilising the country’s ‘economically inactive’, but as this is comprised largely of students, people who have retired, people who are disabled, and people who are not currently seeking work it is apparent that this is not a satisfactory answer. In response to growing public concern, especially in light of the Covid-19 crisis the government has announced a new ‘Health and Care’ visa which will be launched this summer. Let’s explore whether this is just lip service or whether it has a real chance of filling the gap left by Brexit.

What is the Visa?

The government is selling it as a new visa category aimed to ‘ensure UK health and care services have access to the best global talent’. It will include, perhaps most notably, an exemption to the Immigration Health Surcharge, which is due to go up to £624 a year later this year. This is a big concession, likely in response to public opinion towards NHS staff and other frontline workers shifting during the Covid-19 crisis meaning the idea of charging NHS workers to use the service they helped to provide during a global pandemic was no longer palatable to the British public.

Further features of the route will include a reduced application fee (UK visa fees are among some of the most expensive in the world), which further demonstrates government commitment to encouraging foreign healthcare workers to come and support our over-burdened healthcare system. The Home Office also aims to make a decision on these cases within 3 weeks. While they are claiming this will make it ‘faster’ for applicants in this route to obtain a decision, the current processing time is 15 working days for an out of country application for a skilled worker, which the more mathematically minded will note is, in fact, also 3 weeks.

The visa will also not benefit in increased processing times thanks to the abolition of the resident labour market test as healthcare workers are considered shortage occupation workers and are thus exempt. It is difficult to see the government’s claims of a fast-track process as being significantly different from the system as it is today, and as it will exist for other skilled workers under the new scheme. The only material difference appears to be the price.

Who Is and Isn’t Covered? Will Workers in Care Homes be Able to Apply?

One of the primary concerns with the government’s original plans was that whatever provisions may be made for NHS workers, workers in care homes (private or subsidised) were largely forgotten. These workers often earn well under the proposed absolute minimum threshold of £20,408 and while in an ideal world they would be paid more, it is pointless to legislate for an ideal world that does not exist. As such the argument is that care homes, already struggling after the Covid-19 crisis, will be unable to source enough staff to function when deprived of the ability to recruit EU staff. It is worth noting that it is estimated there are currently approximately 110,000 unfilled care jobs in the UK, and of the roles filled, over 100,000 of these are filled by EU migrants.

Obviously it is unlikely that all of these EU workers will quit immediately, but as they leave or retire it will be difficult for care homes to recruit new staff, leading to a potential disaster where over 200,000 posts are unfilled. There is also the risk that in order to fill roles care homes will be forced to offer a higher salary to overseas applicants in order to meet the threshold, meaning British workers and workers with other leave to remain in the UK will end up on a lower salary than their overseas counterparts, which rather undercuts the governments claims that reducing immigration will be of benefit to the British people.

While the government has indicated that the role will be open to ‘all eligible roles within the health and care sector’, these are as follows, and notably do not explicitly include workers in care homes unless they could be classified under ‘Health Professionals not elsewhere classified’:

• 2112 – Biological scientists and biochemists
• 2113 – Physical Scientists
• 2211 – Medical Practitioners
• 2212 – Psychologists
• 2213 – Pharmacists
• 2214 – Ophthalmic Opticians
• 2215 – Dental practitioners
• 2217 – Medical Radiographers
• 2218 – Podiatrists
• 2219 – Health Professionals not elsewhere classified
• 2221 – Physiotherapists
• 2222 – Occupational Therapists
• 2223 – Speech and Language Therapists
• 2229 – Therapy professionals not elsewhere classified
• 2231 – Nurses
• 2232 – Midwives
• 2442 – Social Workers
• 3213 – Paramedics

They have also indicated that they believe ‘immigration is not the answer to the challenges in the social care sector and, as we implement the new immigration system, we want employers to focus on investing in our domestic workforce.’ This suggests that while care workers may be eligible, they will be unlikely to use this route in practice unless reforms in the healthcare sector allow for higher salaries to be paid allowing potential applicants to meet the threshold. It is worth noting that the worse the staffing crisis becomes, the less appealing the sector is to new entrants who are unlikely to be enticed by the combination of a low salary, a difficult job, and increasingly long hours doing the work of several people.

In summary while the new visa route may sound impressive, unless some serious changes are made before its launch it will do little to fill the labour gap and amounts to little more than a cheaper visa for NHS workers which, while certainly a worthy cause, will not do anything to mitigate the potential crisis facing care homes and other low paid healthcare positions as a result of Brexit.

 

If you are interested in a UK visa we can help. Contact us at [email protected] or on 01403 801 801 for a consultation.

New UK Immigration System: July Update

With the Covid-19 crisis throwing a spanner into the works of so many government departments and dominating the media, there’s been little news regarding Priti Patel’s new points based immigration system since the bare bones were released in February (discussed here). That changes today (13/07/2020) with a 130 page document published by the Home Office providing ‘Further Details’ of the new system, which is still on schedule to go into force from January 2021 . We will discuss the new developments and what they might mean for you below.

 

Proving Immigration Status for EU Citizens – Currently non-EU migrants working in the UK receive a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) which demonstrates their right to live and work in the UK. EU citizens have thus far not been issued with a similar physical document, prompting concerns that EU citizens may struggle to prove their immigration status to employers and landlords. The document addresses this concern, indicating that while no physical document will be issued, EU citizens will be able to access an online service which can be used to confirm their rights and access to services where necessary.

This will simplify right-to-work checks for employers by making information available in real time and removing the need to check physical documents. Similar plans are in the pipeline for landlords.

 

Biometric Requirements – EU citizens will not have to attend a Visa Application Centre to enrol biometrics but will instead be able to do so via a smartphone app. The long term aim is to expand this so that all visitors and migrants are supplying biometrics under a single system, which prioritises self-enrolment integrated with the digital application process.

 

Fees – The application fees will continue to apply as they do now, however the Immigration Skills Charge will now be applicable to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens in addition to other migrant workers.

The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) will continue to be payable to at the higher rate (£624 PA) announced earlier this year, however a discounted rate will be available for children and the government intends to exempt frontline workers in the NHS and healthcare sector.

 

Switching Visa Categories – ‘Most migrants’ will be allowed to switch from one immigration route to another without having to leave the UK, the exceptions are listed as those on short term routes such as visitors or seasonal workers. While the government has not said explicitly, this implies that individuals hoping to switch from Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visas and other long term visas which currently require return to the applicants home country would therefore be able to switch in country.

 

Sponsoring Students and Skilled Workers – The Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) will be abolished along with the cap on skilled workers.

Existing Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (ICT) sponsors will automatically be granted a new Skilled Worker licence or ICT licence.

 

Skilled Workers – Under the new system prospective skilled workers must score a certain number of points, some of which are tradeable. Meeting the mandatory criteria will net the applicant 50 points, and a further 20 points must be accrued through a combination of points awarded for salary, a job in a shortage occupation or a relevant PhD.

There are will be different minimum salary rules for workers in certain health or education jobs and for new entrants. The salary requirement for new entrants will be 30% lower than the experienced rate to a minimum of £20,480. For healthcare workers the minimum salary will be £20,480 and the £25,600 threshold required to score additional points will not be applicable. An exception will be made for nurses and midwives who can be paid a lower salary for their first 8 months in the UK until they achieve full UK registration as a nurse or midwife.

The definition of a new entrant has been expanded to include people “working towards recognised professional qualifications or moving directly into postdoctoral positions.”

 

Health and Care Visa – Aimed at incentivising people to come to work for the NHS, this visa route will have fast track entry, reduced application fees and dedicated support with the application process. Applicants will also be exempt from the IHS. This visa is still subject to the £20,480 salary threshold.

 

Global Talent Visa – This visa is aimed at attracting highly skilled migrants with specialist skills and replaces the Tier 1 (exceptional talent visa). Applicants must be endorsed by a recognised UK body as approved by the Home Office. Applicants should be internationally recognised at the highest level and should be leaders in their field or likely to become leaders in their field. There is no English language requirement and applicants will be able to settle on this route.

To facilitate access for scientists and researchers there will be a fast-track endorsement process available to individuals who are; in receipt of a named award or fellowship, in a senior academic position and, part of a publicly funded research team in receipt of prestigious funding or awards.

 

Students – No limit will be imposed on the number of international students and to further increase retention of promising students the government will launch a Graduate route in summer 2021 (the current Doctorate Extension Scheme will also close at this time). This will allow individuals who have completed a degree at a UK university to stay in the UK for 2 years after graduation during which they can work at any skill level and hopefully find a job which will enable them to switch into a skilled worker visa. Under the new scheme students will require 70 points which will not be tradeable (similar to the current system).

The current study time limit for postgraduate students will be removed although students will still have to demonstrate they are progressing academically.

 

Visitors Visas – The government intends to treat EU citizens as Non-visa nationals after free-movement is brought to an end. Individuals on a visit visa will be able to study for up to 6 months.

 

Intra-Company Transfer Visas – Unlike the current system applicants on this route will be able to apply to switch onto the Skilled Worker route (previously this was only available to those earning more than £159,600).  The cooling off period will also be adjusted so that applicants must not hold entry leave on an ICT visa for more than 5 years out of any six-year period (except where their salary makes them eligible to be granted an ICT visa for 9 years).

 

These changes (and more) will come into play from 11pm on 31/12/2020 and formal guidance and Immigration Rules will continue to be published up until this point. Please continue to follow us for the latest on immigration news.

If you need help with a UK visa for yourself or one of your employees or students, or would like some advice on any of the issues raised above, please get in touch for a consultation by emailing us at [email protected] or on 01403 801 801.

 

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