Hongkongers seeking citizenship through the British National (Overseas) visa scheme may face more hurdles, experts have said, after the UK announced plans to cut the annual number of migrant arrivals by 300,000 people by tightening employment and dependant requirements.
The move, announced by British Home Secretary James Cleverly, would restrict the number of dependants able to join their family members, raise minimum salary requirements and tackle exploitation to achieve the country’s “biggest ever” decrease in net migration.
But Cleverly did not reveal whether the new plan would affect applicants for the BN(O) scheme. The Post has reached out to the Home Office for comment.
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Willis Fu Yiu-wai, immigration director at Hong Kong-based consultants Goldmax Associates, on Tuesday said Hongkongers holding the BN(O) visa in the UK might face challenges providing proof of income if authorities imposed the new requirements on them.
“Many Hongkongers opt for part-time jobs like being truck drivers in the UK, and may not have stable income and documents to show they reach the salary threshold,” Fu said. “Some of them live their life only relying on passive income from investments.”
The UK announced the pathway to British citizenship for Hong Kong residents holding BN(O) passports in July 2020, following the promulgation of the national security law in the city.
About 191,000 Hong Kong residents applied for the visa scheme between its launch in January 2021 and September this year, with 96.7 per cent – or 184,700 – receiving approval, according to the latest official figures in December.
From spring next year, immigrants will have to earn £38,700 (US$48,825) a year to obtain a skilled work visa, up from £26,200 currently. Foreign spouses wishing to join their partners in the country will need to earn the same amount.
Fu said those applying for BN(O) visas in future might have to first secure a job in the UK before leaving the city, adding more restrictions might be imposed on various schemes after the new rules were introduced.
“In situations where public resources are strained, including healthcare and employment, many countries often prioritise the needs of their citizens by implementing stricter immigration policies,” Fu said.
Official figures in November showed annual net migration to the UK hit a record of 745,000 in 2022 and had stayed elevated since, with many migrants now coming from places such as India, Nigeria and China instead of the European Union.
“It is clear that net migration remains far too high,” Cleverly said. “By leaving the European Union we gained control over who can come to the UK, but far more must be done to bring those numbers down so British workers are not undercut and our public services put under less strain.”
As of September, 335,447 work visas were granted to immigrants, marking a 35 per cent year-on-year surge, while 250,297 grants were provided to dependants of individuals who had been approved a work visa.
Under the latest plan, immigrants working in health and social care sectors are exempted from the new salary threshold, but will no longer be allowed to bring in relatives considered dependants, a restriction that will also be imposed to foreign graduate students.
Tina Cheng, senior director of Midland Immigration Consultancy, expressed concerns that restrictions might be added for BN(O) visa holders in the finer details of the plan and became more difficult for future applicants.
“Healthcare sector immigrants will not be allowed to bring their dependants to the UK under the new plan,” Cheng said. “The same restriction may also be imposed on Hongkongers in the future.
“Under the current BN(O) visa scheme, families who have relocated to the UK can enrol their children in public schools, but in the future, it may be limited to more expensive private schools.”
She said authorities might also opt to increase the application and National Health Service fees.
Cheng added uncertainties remained as the government had not revealed the details for eligibility to gain citizenship, which could be applied for after spending five continuous years in the United Kingdom.
“No Hongkongers have yet obtained UK citizenship through this migration pathway,” she said. “It was opened just less than three years ago. Restrictions and changes can be made more difficult for them to become a citizen until the sixth-year mark.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- Half of BN(O) migrants are jobless, but 99% have no plans of returning to Hong Kong, study finds
- Beijing slams UK over visa fast track for Hong Kong’s BN(O) holders, calls on London to stop ‘staging hypocrisy shows’
- Hong Kong immigrants voice concerns over UK plan to raise visa fees, health surcharge by up to 66 per cent, but little impact expected on BN(O) migration trend