Hong Kong rush for UK passports

Immigration lawyers and relocation consultants in Hong Kong are reporting a surge in renewals of British National Overseas (BNO) passports in the wake of the national security law imposed on the city by Beijing.

The move follows the announcement by the UK government that, following the imposition of the new law, holders of BNO passports in the former British colony would be entitled to relocate to Britain.About three million Hong Kong citizens born before the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997 would have the right to live and work in the UK for five years, after which they could apply for settled status, effectively giving them permanent residency. After 12 months of settled status, they could apply for full citizenship.The South China Morning Post (SCMP) is now reporting a dramatic uptake in Hongkongers anxious to assert their rights to the BNO passports.Colin Bloomfield, chief executive of immigration service British Connections in Hong Kong, told the 'paper there had been a "sudden surge in applications from people looking to renew their expired or lost passports”.And London-based immigration law firm Mann’s Solutions reported it had seen a six-fold increase in the number of daily inquiries. “I am expecting that demand will increase more once [the British] government announces step-by-step guidelines for BNO passport holders,” said Evgeny Pavlov, the firm's managing director.Mr Pavlov told the SCMP that Hongkongers would essentially have a right to work and or study in Britain, and that the Home Office in London would soon release guidelines on the successful applicants’ rights to social benefits.“I believe it will be done within one to two months at the latest as the situation in Hong Kong escalates. The [British] government is trying to speed the process up in order to allow Hongkongers to apply for the relevant permit,” he said.“The main challenges will be primarily a non-immigration agenda, such as finding a school, university and job.”Migration consultant John Hu said the British plan might offer “the cheapest - or, basically, at no cost - pathway” to British residency, but he added that applicants had to ensure they could find a job in the UK.“You must have enough funds to finance your cost of living, which is at least £20,000 (or) £100,000 for five years,” he said.Kezia Daley, senior associate and immigration specialist at London law firm Winckworth Sherwood, said applicants might be able to enter Britain if they had secured “sponsored employment”.“Alternatively, [the rules] may mirror the previous European Union free movement, whereby those coming to the UK must either have a job, be a jobseeker or self-employed. The UK will be providing further clarity over the coming weeks,” she said.Ms Daley added that it was not yet clear what the pathway to citizenship would look like. "There may be requirements relating to the amount of time spent in the UK, with limitations on time spent out of the UK. There could also be costs associated with the application, but we are waiting to receive further details,” she said.Andrew Lo, chief executive at Anlex, a Hong Kong-based immigration consultancy firm, commented: “The British plan will certainly attract a lot of people. Close to a dozen clients told us to suspend their immigrant applications for other countries the day after they learned about the British move.“The British government has announced it will open its doors. Why would BNO holders spend so much money on investment to go to other countries?”

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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