Hong Kong visa applicants top 100,000

More than 100,000 Hong Kong residents applied to live, work and study in the UK last year under the British National (Overseas) visa route.

An interior scene at a busy airport
The BN(O) scheme opened on January 31 last year in response to a strict new security law imposed by Beijing on the former British colony in 2020. Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that the scheme was designed to honour Britain’s “profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong".
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UK attracts highly skilled professionals

The Home Office has now revealed that, during the 11 months the scheme was in existence last year, 103,900 applications were made with more than 97,000 being approved so far.The majority of the applicants were highly skilled and working in professional or managerial roles. A Home Office survey of successful applicants found that 69 per cent were university educated and that three-quarters were in professional occupations.And the talent pool heading west could be about to grow bigger because, at the end of February, the UK expanded the visa criteria to allow adult children of those eligible for a BN(O) - ie, those resident in Hong Kong before the 1997 handover - to apply to come to the UK independent of their parents.Until now, these young people could only come as dependants travelling with their parents.

More family members now eligible for visas 

The Home Office said in a statement that it was expanding the eligibility criteria in order to address what it said were unfair outcomes, which left some young adults unable to apply while older siblings were eligible."The government has made the decision to enable individuals aged 18 or over who were born on or after 1 July 1997 and who have at least one BN(O) parent to apply to the route independently of their BN(O) parent," the statement said.Benedict Rogers, Chief Executive Officer at the human rights group Hong Kong Watch, said he was delighted that the government has taken "the bold and moral step to expand the BN(O) visa for those brave young Hongkongers who are not currently covered by the scheme".He added: “Hong Kong Watch has made this call for nearly two years and are pleased that ministers have now taken this important step to plug the gap in the policy.“We greatly appreciated the parliamentary and civil society alliance that has stood with the people of Hong Kong to ensure the government lived up to its historic, legal, and moral obligations to help those most in need of a lifeline out of the city.”CNBC reported that the results of the scheme "suggest a win for the UK government as it seeks to position itself as a magnet for international talent, even as it closes its doors to EU workers after Brexit".But the report added: "While BNO visa holders praised the speed and ease with which applications were processed (typically around six weeks), some said the personal costs of making the move have been high — not least financially."The five-year visa — after which Hongkongers can apply for permanent residency, and for citizenship a year later — costs £250 in addition to a mandatory NHS surcharge of £3,120 for adults and £2,350 for children. Thus a family of four could expect to spend £11,940 in fees before they even enter the UK.

London most popular destination 

According to a report at the weekend in the South China Morning Post, London and its outlying boroughs remain by far the most popular destinations for Hong Kong’s migrants moving to the UK under the BN(O) scheme.Marc von Grundherr, Director at the Benham and Reeves estate agency, told the 'paper that London was popular among Hong Kong buyers because of "its abundance of family-oriented amenities” and because of the fact it was home to outstanding schools "which is often the primary focus of many Hong Kong buyers relocating with young families".Even before the visa scheme came into force, Hong Kong and mainland Chinese investors bought £7.69 billion of London real estate in 2019, according to the UK Office of National Statistics, making the capital one of the most popular destinations globally for Chinese property investments.

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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