More than 1 million people from Hong Kong could emigrate to the UK in the next five years under a new visa, including 500,000 in the first year, according to official estimates.
The new route would allow holders of British national (overseas) (BNO) status and their immediate families to apply for entry visas from January 2021, for either two periods of 30 months or a single period of five years. After five years they can apply to settle in the UK, and for citizenship after a further 12 months.
An economic impact assessment by the Home Office gives a “high” range estimate of 500,000 people with BNO status and their dependants arriving in the UK in the first year, with more than 1 million over five years. Total immigration to the UK in the year ending March was 715,000. There will be no quota on the numbers of visas granted.
But the Home Office said this would be an “extreme” scenario. A more likely, “central” estimate calculates 123,000 to 153,000 people with BNO status and their dependants arriving in the UK in the first year and between 258,000 and 322,400 over five years.
The central assessment of the economic net impact of the arrivals is a positive boost to the UK economy of between £2.4bn and £2.9bn over five years with the majority of this in the form of additional tax collected by the exchequer.
The British consul general in Hong Kong, Andrew Heyn, said: “The imposition of the national securitylaw on Hong Kong marked a clear erosion of the rights and freedoms for the people of this city.
“This new route to the UK is part of our commitment to the people of Hong Kong. The UK is ready to welcome BNO citizens and their dependants to the UK.”
The visa is being offered in response to the geo-political situation in Hong Kong. The British home secretary, Priti Patel, said China’s introduction of national security laws on Hong Kong breached the Sino-British joint declaration outlining the terms of the 1997 territorial handover, and “could not be ignored”.
Patel said the BNO visa changes were a “proportionate response” to the situation and “very generous”.
Entrants have the right to work or study, but no access to social welfare. They must pass health and criminal checks, be demonstrably able to support themselves financially for at least six months and prove they hold BNO status, but do not need a current or valid passport.
The cost of the visa has been set lower than many other visas routes to the UK. A five-year visa will cost £250 per person. Applicants will also be able to apply for a 30-month visa at £180 per person. The Hong Kong BNO visa will be open for applications from 31 January next year.
The new rules vastly expand the options for BNO holders, who at present can stay in the UK without a visa for only six months.
BNO status was given to Hong Kong residents who applied before 1 July 1997, when the British government formally handed over the former British territory.
The initial announcement angered the Chinese government, fuelling concerns that even those with British citizenship were now at greater risk.