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    If you are a Hong Kong resident holding British National (Overseas) status, you and your close relatives can apply for a British National (Overseas) visa. As an individual who is 18 years or older, born on or after 1 July 1997, and a child of a British National (Overseas), you have the autonomy to apply independently without requiring your parent’s involvement. Your family members are also eligible to accompany you in the application process. A BNO visa application can be made from outside or inside of the UK. If you are outside of the UK, it is advisable to wait for the decision on your application before making any travel arrangements.

    A BNO Visa Explained

    The British National (Overseas) visa, commonly called the BNO visa, is an immigration program offered by the United Kingdom to enable Hong Kong residents with British National (Overseas) status to relocate and pursue employment opportunities in the United Kingdom. To be eligible for this visa, individuals must hold British National (Overseas) status, or be a child of a British National (Overseas), and demonstrate sufficient financial capability to support themselves in the UK.

    The BNO visa offers a range of valuable benefits, providing individuals with the opportunity to reside, study, and work in the United Kingdom. Through this visa, residents also gain access to state healthcare services and some other public services, subject to meeting specific conditions.

    Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) can be reached after 5 years with this visa type. As its nickname “BNO 5+1.” suggests, following an additional year with ILR, individuals can request British Citizenship, provided that they satisfy the special conditions.

    The BNO visa offers several advantageous features for Hong Kong nationals:

    • Unlimited availability. The UK Home Office has the authority to issue an unlimited quantity of BNO visas to citizens of Hong Kong under the currently existing immigration rules.
    • Simplified eligibility requirements. Unlike other visa categories, the BNO does not mandate meeting specific salary or skill conditions.
    • No need for a sponsor. This visa exempts applicants from the burden of securing sponsorship from a British employer, removing the potential roadblock that may otherwise hinder their visa application process.
    • Long duration of stay. With the BNO visa, individuals can enjoy an extended stay in the United Kingdom, for up to 5 years.
    • Inclusion of family members. With a BNO visa, the holder can bring eligible partners and children to join them in the United Kingdom. Notably, dependent family members can access state schools without cost and receive comprehensive healthcare through the National Health Service.
    • Independence in choosing employment. BNO visa holders have the unique advantage of unrestricted employment opportunities across various fields and organizations, without the need for sponsorships. This level of flexibility greatly expands their employment prospects and empowers them to pursue their desired career paths, with the exception of positions involving sports coaching or professional sports involvement.

    From 19 July 2021, the opportunity for BNO nationals and their family members to enter the UK through leave outside the rules (LOTR) for a duration of 6 months has been removed. As a result, British National (Overseas) individuals who are living overseas should consider obtaining a BNO visa in order to enter the United Kingdom.

    Eligibility Criteria for BNO Visas

    To qualify for the BNO visa, certain conditions must be observed:

    • Age. To apply, individuals must be 18 years of age or older.
    • Eligibility Criteria:
      • Individuals holding a British National (Overseas) status can apply for the BNO visa.
      • If an individual’s birth occurred on or after 1st July 1997, and their parent holds British National (Overseas) status, they have the opportunity to apply for eligibility. Historically, individuals born after this specific date were required to apply alongside their parents. However, recent modifications have been implemented, permitting them to independently submit their applications.
    • Residence Requirements:
      • You must be a resident of Hong Kong if you are applying from outside the UK.
      • Eligible applicants who are resident in the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, or Hong Kong have the option to apply while residing within the UK.
    • English Language Criteria. There is no need for BNO visa applicants to demonstrate English language proficiency. However, if they intend to apply for ILR in the United Kingdom after five years, it is necessary for them to possess fluency in the English language.
    • Criminal Record. To obtain the BNO visa, it is important to meet certain good character requirements, which relate to criminal record, immigration history, some debts accrued in the UK and other factors.

    What Family Members Can Join You on a BNO Visa?

    Family members of the visa holder in the UK can qualify to join and reside in the country under the British National (Overseas) visa program.. Dependent partners can demonstrate their dependency status by providing evidence of a marriage or legally recognized civil partnership. Alternatively, they can show that they have been cohabiting with the visa holder for a minimum period of two years.

    Typically, individuals under the age of 18 may only be allowed to join or remain with both parents, unless specific circumstances are present, such as one parent having exclusive custody or the child already possessing a BNO visa.
    Adult dependants, such as parents, grandparents, siblings, or adult children, can apply if they live with the visa holder and require long-term care due to age, disability, or medical conditions.

    The duration of the BNO visa for family members can be either 2 years and 6 months or 5 years, with the opportunity for extension and the possibility of applying for permanent residency. The application process can be completed online, both within and outside the UK.

    Do BNO Visas Have any Financial Requirements?

    When making a BNO application for the first time, you need to show that you have enough financial resources to support yourself and your family for 6 months, including covering your housing needs. Your savings, income, and the income of your family members can count as your financial resources. The money you will earn in prospectively earn can also constitute your financial resources. If you have relatives or friends who are willing to support you, you can include their offer in your application.

    Typically, individuals who have resided in the United Kingdom for a duration of one year or longer are not required to furnish evidence of financial resources. Nevertheless, fulfilling this requirement is still necessary for individuals who have been granted under the Youth Mobility Scheme or granted 12 months of Leave Outside the Rules following a previous unsuccessful BNO application. Apart from housing expenses, you should have at least the equivalent amount of someone receiving Income Support in the UK.

    The amount required will vary based on factors such as the amount of rent you expect to be paying and the number of family members who are submitting applications.

    What Documents Are Necessary for a BNO Visa?

    When you’re applying for a British National (Overseas) (BNO) visa in the UK, you’ll need to make sure you have all the necessary documents ready. These documents are super important because they play a big role in deciding if you’re eligible for the visa or not. You will be required to present documents, such as your valid passport, proof of your British National (Overseas) status, and evidence of your residence in the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Great Britain, or Hong Kong.

    Furthermore, it is imperative to furnish financial documentation, including bank statements, to substantiate your ability to financially sustain yourself and your family during your stay in the United Kingdom. If you are applying with your family, you will also have to submit their passports and documents showing your relationships in order to confirm their eligibility.

    Lastly, if you are claiming access to benefits based on your financial circumstances, you will need to provide relevant documents to substantiate your claim. This may include proof of being at risk of losing your place to live or proof of a significantly low income. It is of utmost importance to ensure the accuracy and validity of all documents in order to avoid any delays or complications in the visa application process.

    When applying in the UK, it’s crucial to have the right documents to prove your permanent residency and that of your dependants. This includes things like bills, a valid visa, bank statements, payslips, an employer’s letter, a healthcare appointment letter, rent or mortgage records, or a government letter. Being prepared with these documents will speed up the application process and make sure you meet all the requirements.

    What Does the Application for a BNO Visa Look Like?

    The mechanism of applying for a BNO visa will depend on whether you are making an application from inside or outside the United Kingdom.

    From Inside the UK

    To successfully apply for a British National (Overseas) visa within the United Kingdom for the first time, it is essential to adhere to the following steps:

    1. Determine your eligibility. Ensure you comply with all the eligibility criteria for the BNO visa before applying.
    2. Gather the required documents. Collect all the necessary documents such as your passport, and supporting documents that prove your identity and eligibility.
    3. Apply online. Submit your application online through the official UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) website.
    4. Choose your method of identity verification. Depending on what passport type you have, you will need to choose either the “UK Immigration: ID Check” app or visit a visa application centre in your area to complete an identity verification check.
    5. Attend an appointment. If you opt for an appointment, go to the designated visa application centre at the scheduled time. Remember to bring your passport and all relevant documents. Note that the centre may take and retain your passport and documents until the decision on your application is made.
    6. Await the decision. UKVI will generally decide on BNO visa applications within 12 weeks after submitting the application or attending the appointment. The 12-week processing period commences from the day of your appointment and the completion of fingerprinting.
    7. Travel restrictions. Note that you are not allowed to travel outside the Channel Islands, United Kingdom, or Isle of Man until you receive a decision on your application.
    8. Family applications. If you are applying with family members, it’s possible that decisions on their applications may be received at different times. Also, a decision on one person’s application does not automatically reflect the others.
    9. Edit or cancel your application. If you need to edit or cancel your application, contact UKVI. However, there may be a fee involved, and a refund can be possible if processing has not yet started.
    10. After receiving a decision. Once a decision is made, you will be notified either through a letter or email. The communication will provide instructions on the next steps to be taken.
    11. Rejected applications. If your application is not successful, the applications of your family members will also be declined. Nevertheless, there are certain circumstances in which you may be granted permission to remain in the UK for a maximum of 12 months. During these instances, it is possible to receive a partial refund for the healthcare surcharge and apply again for a BNO visa.

    Remember to carefully follow the instructions provided by UKVI and provide accurate and complete information during the application process.

    From Outside the UK

    To begin the process of applying for a British National (Overseas) visa for the first time from outside the UK, the following steps need to be taken:

    1. Visit the official GOV.UK website. Start by visiting the official GOV.UK website to access the BNO visa application system.
    2. Fill in a web-based form. Create an account on the website and fill in the online application form. Provide up-to-date and correct information about yourself and any family members included in the application.
    3. Verify yourself. To verify your identity, you have two options available. The first option is to utilize the “UK Immigration: ID Check” application, specifically designed for this purpose. Alternatively, you can visit a visa application centre located in your vicinity. It is important to adhere to the guidelines and instructions provided throughout the application process to properly validate your identity.
    4. Visit an appointment (if required). Depending on your circumstances, attending an appointment at a visa application centre may be required. Sometimes, the centre can retain your passport, and you may need to travel to another city or country to attend the appointment.
    5. Submit biometric data. When visiting an appointment, a standard part of the application process will be the provision of your fingerprints and other biometric details.
    6. Submit supporting documents. During the BNO visa application process, you will need to submit supporting documents to verify your eligibility. Make sure to gather all the required documents in advance and have them ready for uploading.
    7. Pay the visa fee and healthcare surcharge. The applicable visa fee and the healthcare surcharge are an integral part of the online application process. Note that the healthcare surcharge is refundable if the Home Office rejects your application.
    8. Submit your application. Double-check all the information provided. Once you are satisfied, submit your application.
    9. Wait for a decision. After submitting your application, UKVI will deliver a verdict within 12 weeks. Processing times may vary depending on various factors, such as document verification, additional evidence required, or interviews.
    10. Receive the visa decision. You will be notified of the decision through an email or letter. If your application is successfully accepted, you will receive instructions on the next steps to take.
    11. Travel to the UK. In the event that your application is approved, it is necessary for you to enter the United Kingdom within 90 days, provided that you utilized a visa application centre. Alternatively, if you applied through the “UK Immigration: ID Check” application, it is required for you to travel prior to the expiration of your current visa.
    12. Handle family applications. If you applied with close relatives, their visa decisions may come at different times. Make sure to wait until all family members receive a positive decision before arranging your immigration to the UK, if you all wish to travel together.
    13. Edit or cancel your application (if needed). If you need to make changes or cancel your application, contact UKVI directly. Note that fees may only be refunded if processing has not yet started.
    14. Act on the decision. Follow the instructions provided in the decision letter or email to proceed with the necessary steps based on the outcome of your application.

    What Are Associated Costs of A BNO Visa?

    To apply for, switch to, or extend a British National (Overseas) visa, there is a requirement to pay the visa application fee and healthcare surcharge. Additionally, it is mandatory to demonstrate sufficient financial stability to support oneself and one’s family for a minimum of six months during the initial application process.

    The visa application fee varies depending on the duration: £180 for 2 years and 6 months, or £250 for 5 years.
    The healthcare surcharge is required for each individual and covers the use of the NHS in the UK. Additional costs for dental care, eye tests, and prescriptions still apply. The healthcare surcharge for adults is £1,560 for 2 years and 6 months or £3,120 for 5 years. For children, it is £1,175 for 2 years and 6 months or £2,350 for 5 years. You will pay the healthcare surcharge when applying online.

    BNO Renewal

    If you are a holder of the British National Overseas visa from Hong Kong, you have the opportunity to extend your visa multiple times until it expires. This allows you to prolong your stay in the UK, even if you initially came for a period of 2.5 years. After the first extension, you can renew it for an additional 2.5 years, and eventually, you will be eligible to apply for permanent residence in the UK.

    To apply for an extension of your BNO visa, you are required to complete an online application form, pay the appropriate fees, submit the required documents, and arrange a biometric appointment.

    If you have dependants, you must include the extension reference of the principal applicant. In the case of children under the age of 18, both parents must normally be in the UK, unless one of them has exclusive responsibility.

    If a separation or divorce occurs, it is necessary to notify the Home Office. Depending on your situation, you might need to change your visa category in order to remain in the United Kingdom. To ensure that you receive accurate legal advice during this process, it is recommended to seek guidance from an immigration lawyer, such as those at Sterling Law, located in London.

    How to Apply For ILR or Citizenship with a BNO Visa?

    After residing in the United Kingdom for a period of five years under a BNO visa, individuals are eligible to obtain Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). To fulfil the eligibility criteria for the BNO visa, it is essential not to exceed 180 days of absence from the UK in any given year, as stipulated by the “Continuous residence” requirement.

    Following the next 12 months after obtaining ILR based on a BNO visa, a person can also potentially apply for British citizenship.

    Holding ILR comes with its benefits:

    • A person can stay in the UK for as long as they want. It means you will no longer need to extend your BNO visa.
    • A person can also easily travel to and from the UK.
    • An ILR holder can study at college, school, or university in the UK
    • An ILR holder will gain the right to request public benefits.

    After securing ILR, a BNO visa holder receives peace of mind that they can safely reside in the UK, no matter how the political relationships between Hong Kong and Great Britain change.

    With a BNO visa before receiving ILR, individuals can qualify for public benefits under specific financial circumstances. For instance, public benefits under the BNO visa are accessible to individuals who meet the following conditions:

    • The individual is without a home or lacks the financial means to rent or purchase a home.
    • The individual has a home but lacks sufficient funds to cover necessary living expenses, including food and utilities.
    • The individual faces the risk of losing their home or lacking the means to meet essential living costs.
    • The individual has an exceptionally low income, and the absence of access to public benefits would have detrimental effects on their child’s welfare.

    How Can We Help?

    Sterling Law is your reliable partner for all your UK relocation needs, whether you’re considering the BNO path or any other immigration route. Our specialised team offers comprehensive legal advice and assistance to both corporate and residential clients from abroad, with a particular focus on providing professional support for Hong Kong nationals to secure a BNO visa.

    We are committed to helping our customers achieve their immigration goals, and our services reflect this dedication. Here’s what we can do for you:

    • Determine Eligibility. We will thoroughly assess your situation to determine if you and your family meet the eligibility requirements for a BNO visa.
    • Error-Free Application. Our experts will guide you in creating an accurate and mistake-free BNO application, maximizing your chances of success.
    • Document Collection and Review. We will assist you in gathering all necessary documents and meticulously review them for accuracy before submission.
    • Individual Applications. We will guide and support each eligible family member throughout their BNO visa application process.
    • Visa Extension Assistance. Our team will handle all aspects of your visa extension applications for you and your family members.
    • Home Office Communication. We will act as your trusted intermediary, communicating with the Home Office on your behalf regarding your BNO visa application.
    • Appeal Process Guidance. If your application or that of your relatives is rejected, we will provide expert guidance and support.

    Discover how Sterling Law can assist you in your unique situation. Contact us today for personalised assistance and let us help you navigate your immigration journey with confidence.

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