Hong Kong residents: what does BN (O) mean and what does it entitle you to?

In the UK, Boris Johnson has said BN (O) passport holders in Hong Kong may be given a new pathway to British citizenship if the Chinese government passes new security laws affecting Hong Kong. Politicians seem to love abbreviations but that doesn’t help you if you are in Hong Kong and wondering if you have BN (O) and, if you have it, what it may entitle you to. In this blog we look at what the term BN (O) means and the implications for you if you are a BN (O) living in Hong Kong.

British nationality solicitors 

If you have questions about Hong Kong to UK immigration options or settlement in the UK and British nationality then the immigration and British citizenship solicitors at OTS Solicitors can help you. Call the friendly and expert British citizenship team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online.

What is a BN (O)?

BN (O) stands for a ‘’British national overseas’’. There are two types of BN (O):

What is BNO status? 

British National (Overseas) status is a type of British nationality created by the Hong Kong Act 1985, specifically for British Dependent Territories citizens of Hong Kong. To secure BN (O) status you had to apply to register (a bit like the current settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme).Like with settled status and EU citizens there was a cut-off date for applications, namely the 1 July 1997.Those people who didn’t register for BNO status and had no other nationality or citizenship on the 30 June 1997 automatically became BN (O) status holders on the 1 July 1997.

How long does BN (O) status last for?

BNO status is for life and is only ended if you renounce it or if, in very limited circumstances, it is revoked by the UK government. You should take legal advice before renouncing your BN (O) status as if you renounce it you won't be eligible to apply for the reinstatement of your BN (O) status.

Have my children inherited BN (O) status?

Your children can't inherit your BN (O) status. However, the government has said that if they change the immigration Rules those entering the UK with BN (O) status under the amended immigration Rules will be able to bring dependants with them. The definition of dependants is quite restricted and if you are worried if your children or other family members fall within the class of ‘’dependants’’ under the immigration Rules it is best to take legal advice.

If I have BN (O) status am I a British citizen?

BNO status doesn’t confer British citizenship but it does make you a Commonwealth Citizen. As a Commonwealth citizen and a BN (O) status holder, under current immigration Rules, you can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain if you have lawfully resided in the UK for 5 years and meet the continuous residence requirement and general eligibility criteria. As you aren’t a British citizen you will have been subject to immigration control whilst in the UK. After you have secured Indefinite Leave to Remain you can make a British naturalisation application and become a British citizen.

What rights does BN (O) status give me?

If you reside in Hong Kong and have BN (O) status then immigration solicitors say that it is easiest to say what rights BN (O) does NOT give you. If you have BN (O) status then you don’t have the right to enter the UK free of immigration control (save for the current period of 6 months) or the right to remain in the UK on an indefinite basis or to work or study without the necessary visa. However, there are some current advantages of BN (O) status, namely:

  • If you have BN (O) status you can enter the UK and stay for up to 6 months without needing a visa

  • If you are age from 18 to 30 you may meet the eligibility criteria for a visa under the UK Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) enabling you to live and work in the UK for up to 24 months.

Does it make a difference if I live in Hong Kong with BN (O) but don’t have a current passport?

At the moment it is hard for UK British nationality solicitors to answer the question

"Does it make a difference if I live in Hong Kong with BN (O) but don’t have a current passport?" because various politicians have referred to Hong Kong immigration changes for those with BN (O) and some have distinguished between those that have BN (O) and those that have BN (O) and a current passport. 

Immigration solicitors are aware of discrepancies between what politicians have said because of the numbers that they say BN (O) applies to. Some have referred to potential changes in the immigration Rules applying to about 350,000 with BN (O) status in Hong Kong and others have referred to a figure of nearer 3 million. 

The statistics show that there are nearly 3 million people with BN (O) status in Hong Kong and of those nearly 3 million people roughly 350,000 have BN (O) with a current passport. If you currently hold BN (O) status and a current passport then you can enter the UK without needing a visa and can stay in the UK for up to 6 months.

Some politicians have referred to potential immigration Rule changes only affecting 350,000 Hong Kong residents, thus implying that any new rules would only apply to those with BN (O) and a current passport.

If I live in Hong Kong with BN (O) status should I apply for a passport?

The short answer is yes, if you live in Hong Kong and have BN (O) status you should apply for a passport. Whilst no immigration solicitors can be sure about how any changes to the immigration Rules will be implemented and what restrictions will be imposed it seems sensible and prudent to sort out your passport.

Do I lose BN (O) status if I don’t have a passport?

You won't lose your BN (O) status if you don’t have a current valid passport. That is because your BN (O) status is not reliant on your having a passport. However, because the politicians are currently unclear on whether any immigration Rule changes would apply to you if you have BN (O) status but you don’t have a valid passport it is sensible and potentially best for you to make a passport application. 

Can I lose BN (O) status?

It is possible to lose your BN (O) status just in the same way that a British citizen can lose their British nationality if it is either renounced by the individual or revoked. You would need to make the decision to renounce your BN (O) status and the UK government can only revoke your BN (O) status in very limited circumstances.

Does BN (O) status give me the right to free movement?

If you have BN (O) status the question is often asked if you have the right of free movement within EU countries because of your overseas British nationality status. Immigration solicitors say that BN (O) status doesn’t give you the right to free movement in the UK or elsewhere in the European Union.

If I am in Hong Kong can I apply for BN (O) status now?

There was a cut-off date for BN (O) status applications and that time has long passed. This means that no person born after 30 June 1997 is a British National (Overseas). Only BN (O) status holders (and potentially their dependants) will be able to benefit from any immigration Rule changes.

However, if you are living in Hong Kong and either don’t have BN (O) status or you don’t want to wait to see if the UK government brings in immigration Rule changes to give additional rights to those with BN (O) status and you want to live and work in the UK there may be alternative immigration options such as:

UK immigration solicitors

Our UK immigration solicitors are experts in the immigration and visa options available to Hong Kong British national (Overseas) citizens. If you are a Hong Kong BN (O) and need help with your immigration options call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form.

What do the potential immigration Rule changes mean for you if you live in Hong Kong?

The Home Office has said that it will look at the options to allow BN (O) holders to apply for leave to stay in the UK, if eligible, for an extendable period of 12 months and during time those with BN (O) status would be able to work and study. Most importantly, as the proposed visa would be extendable, your arrival in the UK from Hong Kong as a BN (O) could eventually lead to an application for British citizenship once you meet the residence requirement and general eligibility criteria.

The UK government has said that it will only consider a change to the immigration Rules if the Chinese government introduces a national security law in Hong Kong and that special measures for Hong Kong BN (O) status holders is justified because implementation of national security law would violate the agreement reached between the UK and Chinese governments on self-rule.

British nationality solicitors 

If you have questions about immigration, settlement in the UK and British nationality then the British citizenship solicitors at OTS Solicitors can help you. Call the friendly and expert British citizenship team at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us online. Appointments are available through video conferencing, Skype or telephone. 

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