The UK’s offer of visa and settlement routes for residents of Hong Kong Contents

4Barriers to application

78.While the Government has taken steps to enable wide access for BN(O) citizens to the UK, we heard that some significant barriers remain which may deter Hong Kongers from seeking to come to the UK.


79.The Government has set the cost of the Hong Kong BN(O) visa lower than for other temporary visa categories, at £180 for a 30-month visa or £250 for a five year visa; the Government’s estimated unit cost for processing each individual visa application for this route is £170,74 so the cost to the applicant is only marginally higher than the administrative cost to the Government. Applicants must however also pay the immigration health surcharge at the full rate of £1,560 (£1,175 for children under 18) per person for 30 months or £3,120/£2,350 for a five year visa and must also be able to demonstrate that they are able to pay for housing and to support themselves and family members for six months.75

80.Witness E calculated the cost to a family of 2 adults and 2 children under 18 of applying for the 30 month visa as follows:

Chargeable item

Cost per person


Parent’s application fee for a [2.]5-year BNO visa



IHS per parent for a [2.]5-year BNO visa (£624 per year)



Child’s application fee for a [2.]5-year BNO visa



IHS per child for a [2.]5-year BNO visa (£470 per year)



Grand total:


81.For the five year visa, Witness E presented the costs to the same family as follows:76

Chargeable item

Cost per person


Parent’s application fee for a 5-year BNO visa



IHS per parent for a 5-year BNO visa (£624 per year)



Child’s application fee for a 5-year BNO visa



IHS per child for a 5-year BNO visa (£470 per year)



Grand total:


82.Witness E was concerned that these costs might prove a barrier to families seeking to leave Hong Kong since they must be paid up-front and, while a family might have sufficient regular income to meet the requirement to be self-supporting in the UK for at least six months, it might not have savings which would enable these additional fees to be paid as well.77

83.In contrast, Witness B told us that in a survey “around 88%” of participants had said they would be able to afford both the visa fee and the immigration health surcharge. They told us that concern was more often expressed about the ability for individuals and families to be self-supporting for the first six months after arrival, while looking for accommodation and employment. Witness B noted that while “the vast majority” of those arriving should be able to support themselves there would be a minority, particularly among younger applicants, who would struggle to do so.

84.Concern has been raised separately that, even after the cost was reduced by the UK Government, the expense of the Hong Kong BN(O) visa route is unaffordable for many young activists.78

85.In their written evidence both Witness E and Witness B called for the introduction of a means-tested fee waiver for those with limited means—which Witness B noted might be particularly helpful to younger applicants—stating that targeting this support towards those who needed it most would be in line with the offer of “genuine protection and assistance” that underpinned the development of this route.79

86.The Minister affirmed to us in writing that “It is only right those who benefit from our immigration system contribute to its cost” and that the immigration health surcharge “goes towards supporting our NHS”.80

87.We accept the principle that individuals who benefit from immigration should contribute towards the costs of essential UK services and we also welcome the fact that, when designing this visa route, the Government set out to increase its accessibility by setting a low fee for the applicant. However we are concerned that the upfront nature and scale of the immigration health surcharge will not be affordable for some BN(O) visa holders and particularly for young people. The Home Secretary has described the route as a proportionate response to a specific situation: we therefore recommend that, as a proportionate further step, the Government introduce either a means-tested fee waiver for Hong Kongers to whom the cost is a significant barrier to protection or flexibilities around delayed or reduced payment where appropriate.

Tuition fees

88.Witness B flagged to us that many young people who hoped to travel to the UK were also expressing concern about the additional costs of university tuition. Hong Kongers looking to study at UK universities would be treated as international students, meaning that they would not be able to access UK student finance and would be charged international tuition fees. These fees on top of youth mobility or BN(O) visa and health surcharge fees were potentially daunting and might deter young people from travelling to the UK to study in safety because they would find a university education in the UK unaffordable. Witness B said that “Allowing [these young people] to study in the UK is the best way to provide assistance and support, and allow them to contribute to the UK after they complete their studies”.81 As a Committee we have previously heard concerns about the combined impact of international student fees and visa costs on young migrants powerfully expressed by We Belong.82

89.Witness E informed us that the relevant UK regulations do not prevent higher education institutions from charging overseas students domestic rates by discretion; they also noted that, elsewhere, the regulations recognise and define refugees and their family members as a class of people whose fees should be capped. We also note that between 1997 and 2000 some students who were resident in Hong Kong were eligible for home fee status and student support in the UK under student support regulations.83

90.We recommend that, on grounds of the unique historical relationship between the UK and Hong Kong, the Government should consider providing for Hong Kong students to be charged domestic fees for higher education in the UK.


91.Asylum is a potential route to the UK for Hong Kongers, including those born after 1997, who are not eligible for the BN(O) visa. We heard however that concerns might deter some Hong Kongers from taking this route.

92.We cover in paragraphs 48–50 the concerns from young people about the impact of asylum delays on their ability to continue their studies or find employment. We also heard of enduring concerns more widely about whether asylum claims from Hong Kong would be accepted. These concerns focused on the official information and guidance provided by the Home Office to frontline caseworkers, to support their consideration of asylum applications. Witness B wrote that the Home Office’s country policy and information note relating to the national security law in Hong Kong, which was published in November 2020,84 only covered impacts of the national security law up to August 2020 and therefore did not reflect “a number of shocking cases” which had taken place since, including the interception and detention of 12 Hong Kongers who had tried to leave Hong Kong for Taiwan and the 53 arrests on 6 January in connection with the unofficial opposition primary. They wrote that the Government’s assessment was unrealistic since it failed to take account of developments beyond the earliest days of the security law; they also suggested that the Government was engaging in “wishful thinking” when it stated in the note that the security law was only being applied “in a narrow sense to ensure economic interest or only targeting a minority”.85

93.We also heard that the November update failed to address issues which Hong Kongers believed had been misrepresented in the previous version of the note, dated February 2020. These concerns related to comments in the February note suggesting that the treatment experienced by people arrested and detained for involvement in anti-government protests “is not sufficiently serious by its nature and repetition as to amount to a generalised risk of persecution or serious harm”, although statistics from the security bureau of the Hong Kong government showed that, up to 23 January 2020, more than 7,000 pro-democracy protestors had been arrested, most of whom were aged under 30,86 and police brutality and torture had separately been documented.87

94.Witness E wrote that they had been told by some Hong Kongers that the February 2020 country information note had deterred them from claiming asylum “since the perception is the Home Office’s position is that a protester is not at risk of harm”.88 As a consequence it was difficult to be confident that caseworkers’ approach to applications from Hong Kongers, informed by the official guidance, would be looking to approve rather than to reject or deny asylum applications.89

95.Witnesses’ concerns about asylum decision-making are unlikely to have been assuaged by the Minister’s further written comments that asylum claims

are assessed on a case-by-case basis using our published casework and country information guidance. Protection is normally granted where a claimant has a well-founded fear of persecution.

The Minister noted that asylum claims from Hong Kong nationals in the third quarter of 2020 numbered 41, which is low: the number of grants of protection in the same period (6) was even lower.90

96.Witnesses told us that the Home Office’s failure to keep its country policy information notes on Hong Kong up to date potentially left asylum-seekers who have a well-founded fear of persecution at risk of having their claims denied by caseworkers. This concern was sufficient to deter eligible claims.

97.The UK has a proud record of providing asylum to individuals who need it, from many parts of the world. A failure to provide effective and timely consideration to asylum seekers from Hong Kong would damage this record, as well as undermining the unique commitment made by the UK to the citizens of Hong Kong. We have already in this report recommended that the Government establish a dedicated casework team to examine Hong Kong BN(O) visa applications; the Government should similarly establish a dedicated casework team to examine asylum applications from Hong Kong. In addition, the Government should report back to us with an updated country policy note for Hong Kong within eight weeks. The Home Office must also provide assurances concerning the frequency with which its country policy information notes are reviewed and in particular must confirm what measures are in place both to ensure that CPINs relating to Hong Kong are updated in response to developments, and to ensure that such changes are communicated quickly and effectively to frontline caseworkers.

Awareness of the scheme

98.We were told that the UK offer had not been welcomed by the Chinese authorities and that, in consequence, there had been little reporting of the policy in Hong Kong.91 In addition to the risk this presents of those who are eligible missing out because they do not hear about the route, as we have noted above we also heard concerns that some groups who might be aware of the route might nonetheless be deterred from applying because of doubts about their eligibility for the visa.

99.The Minister for Future Borders and Immigration wrote to us on 3 February that the Government had recognised and planned for “a range of scenarios” relating to communication of the new visa route, “including active suppression of information”. He assured us that “Communications are being delivered through a range of channels with a focus on ensuring applicants have a direct source of information”, and said that the Home Office’s approach was “fully aligned” with the FCDO and National Security communications team.92

100.The Government must provide further assurances of the practical steps it is taking to welcome BN(O) citizens and to ensure they are aware of the scheme. The Government should review its communication plan to ensure that the new visa route is being publicised through all appropriate channels and, where changes are made to enhance and extend the scheme, must ensure that these changes are communicated quickly and effectively.

75 Home Office, ‘Hong Kong British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) visa’, 22 October 2020

76 VIS0002 paragraph 30

77 VIS0002 paragraphs 28–34

79 VIS0002 paragraph 34; VIS001

80 Letter from the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, 15 February 2021

84 Country Policy Information Note: China Hong Kong National Security Law November 2020 version 1.0 [accessed 7 June 2021]

86 Q7 6 January 2021

87 VIS0002 paras 61–67

88 VIS0002 paragraph 67

89 Q7 6 January 2021

90 Letter from the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, 15 February 2021

91 Q30 6 January 2021

92 Letter from the Minister for Future Borders and Immigration, 15 February 2021

Published: 7 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement