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

5Settlement in the UK

101.In this final chapter we consider the numbers of arrivals expected in the UK, and Government preparations to support their integration.

Eligibility for the Hong Kong BN(O) visa and estimates of the numbers expected to arrive in the UK

102.Records indicate that 3.3 million people had registered for BN(O) status by the cut-off date for registration of 30 June 1997. As the status was not available after the handover the group is gradually reducing in size and is believed currently to number around 2.9 million. The Government’s impact assessment estimated that these individuals may have about 2.3 million dependents, and there may also be 187,000 18–23 year olds93 who are not themselves BN(O)s but who have at least one BN(O) parent. These figures together indicate that those eligible under the new visa route may number approximately 5.4 million Hong Kong residents.

103.While this is a significant number, the Government’s impact assessment noted that not all BN(O)s will wish to leave Hong Kong and only a proportion of those who do are likely to come to the UK (some other countries, notably Canada and Australia, have also set out measures94). The assessment suggested that the numbers arriving in the UK over five years might be between 258,000 and 322,400, with a significant proportion of the group—between 123,000 and 153,700—arriving in the first year. It said that there were “several complex push and pull factors which are likely to influence decisions” and noted a high degree of uncertainty in the planning assumptions. The impact assessment did not take account of any impact of covid-19 and, in February, the Minister wrote to us that estimates of likely arrivals were complicated by the difficulty for BN(O) status holders, under the national security law, in “talking openly about their attitudes and future plans”.95 96

104.Government statistics show that in the period January - March 2021 (Q1 2021) there were 34,300 applications for the BN(O) route of which 20,000 were main applicants and 14,300 were dependants. BN(O) visas were granted to 7,200 applicants (4,800 main applicants and 2,400 dependants). The Government reported that “the majority of grants (86%) were to BN(O) and/or Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) passport holders.” Forty one per cent of the dependants—equivalent to around 984 of the 2,400 dependants—were not HKSAR passport holders.97

105.Witnesses broadly agreed that the Government’s estimate of around 200,000–300,000 Hong Kongers travelling to the UK over five years was “fair” although they had a slightly different view about the pattern of applications for the visa. Witness D thought that the first year estimate of 120,000 arrivals was “broadly accurate” but was not convinced that numbers would tail off over time, as the Government’s estimates suggested: a survey conducted by HongKongers in Britain, while it had a small sample size, suggested that a significantly higher proportion of those planning to come to the UK would apply in the first two years of the scheme than the Government’s impact assessment calculated. The survey recorded 88% of potential applicants planning to travel by 2023, compared to the Home Office’s 65% estimate. They also believed that unless the political situation in Hong Kong improved, demand would be sustained for the lifetime of the scheme and suggested that the Home Office was privately aware of this range in the estimates.98

106.Witness D also suggested that there were “a lot” of people who were looking to move their assets in preparation for travel to the UK and who would apply once this was done. Witness E believed that the arrests of democracy activists on 6 January, and Hong Kongers’ uncertainty about the determination to enforce the national security law, might accelerate people’s plans

we do not know what is next, and that is the worry that is obviously likely to drive any desire to emigrate.99

107.There have been further developments since we took evidence in January which may impact upon decisions taken by Hong Kongers about whether to stay or leave. These include the issuing of a circular to all primary and secondary schools in early February advising that article 10 of the national security law required the promotion of “national security education in schools and universities”: this action has been described as “aimed at quashing political dissent in the education system and restricting critical inquiry”.100 The Guardian has reported that this provision places a requirement on schools “to prevent participation in political activities, increase monitoring of employees and teaching materials, remove books and flyers deemed to endanger national security and to report to authorities if necessary”.101

108.On 28 April 2021 it was reported that the Hong Kong legislature had passed a new immigration law which included a power allowing the city’s immigration chief to bar people from boarding planes to and from the city either as passengers or crew. Activists expressed concern that this power could be used in the same way as “exit bans” introduced on the Chinese mainland to prevent pro-democracy activists leaving Hong Kong to go into exile.102 The Foreign Secretary has said that there will be little the UK can do if Beijing tried to prevent Hong Kong citizens leaving the country.103

109.The immigration law is due to come into force on 1 August 2021:104 both this and the intervention in schools may impact upon—and in some cases appears likely to accelerate—the timing of people’s applications to come to the UK.

Preparations in the UK

110.During oral evidence in January witnesses told us that they wanted to see Ministerial assurances backed up by “concrete actions and evidence” that Government, and particularly local authorities, were prepared for the arrival of families who were already beginning to travel from Hong Kong.

111.We heard that arrivals were unlikely to try to congregate in a single area but were told that there was “increasing interest from BNOs to move to metropolitan areas” for reasons including the opportunity to join existing Hong Kong communities in ethnically diverse areas, access to schooling and the desire to move to areas with job opportunities and affordable housing.105 However we were also told by Witness F, in written evidence, that they were “struck by the general lack of knowledge about the BN(O) scheme” on the part of regional mayors and combined authorities who, citing pressure on budgets following the pandemic, advised they “speak directly to the Home Office over the need for a specific integration fund”.106

112.Witness D similarly detected “confusion” in local authorities which did not understand BN(O) status and warned,

do not forget that BN(O) is a cross-section of Hong Kong society. It is not just the typical middle-class or financial background Hong Kongers. We will have people moving to this country who do not speak good English or people who are lower income or people who simply do not know anything about the UK and have never been to the UK. They will face a lot of issues in their daily life. … I do not think the Government are prepared to receive people coming to the UK.107

They speculated that “because Hong Kongers coming on the BNO visa scheme are considered and expected to be self-sufficient with no recourse to public funds, there is a feeling [in Government] that there is no need for … integration assistance”.108

113.Alongside a general lack of understanding witnesses also commented on difficulties relating to specific services and particularly accommodation and education. Witness F reported cases of BN(O) parents being offered incorrect information by local authorities in respect of their right to apply for school places.109 Witness B was concerned that families may exhaust their private resources if the search for employment and accommodation takes longer than anticipated; they called for local authorities, particularly in urban areas, to be preparing for additional demands on housing, education, social services and mental health support.110

114.The Minister wrote to us on 15 February indicating that MHCLG had written to all English local authorities and the devolved administrations to draw to their attention the estimates of arrivals to their areas; he said that Home Office officials were working across Government and alongside civil society groups to support the integration of BN(O) status holders.111 In the same month, however, an article published by Bloomberg criticised the “shambolic” failure of the Government to co-ordinate central and local help for the large numbers of individuals which the Government estimates may come to the UK under the BN(O) scheme.112

Resettlement assistance and civil society support

115.We heard concerns about a failure by central and local government to understand the potential for tension between individuals and communities settling in the UK under the BN(O) scheme and existing communities from Hong Kong or mainland China which may have a different relationship with the Chinese authorities. Witness C had encountered cases of individual Hong Kongers who were reluctant to share information in case this information ultimately found its way back to the Chinese Government. It was suggested that UK authorities which lacked “that subtle sense” of how the political situation in Hong Kong might impact on UK communities might incorrectly assume that particular groups would be both willing to support new arrivals to settle and able to secure their confidence.113

116.Equally, however, we heard that assistance organisations had been set up in the UK by some settled Hong Kongers, which would require support and funding in order to be able to assist new arrivals effectively to integrate.114

Suggestions for improving the support available to arrivals in the UK

117.Drawing an analogy with Government support for Ugandan Asians who arrived in the UK following their expulsion from Uganda in 1972, Witness D in January called for the Government to set up a resettlement board which would facilitate cross-departmental work with local authorities and also co-ordinate civil society support for arrivals from Hong Kong.115 Witness E thought that an integration fund which might be accessed by local authorities and civil society groups would be helpful.116 Witness B suggested that it might be helpful to have a scheme for job matching, to support arrivals who were not familiar with the UK jobs market.117 Witness F noted, more generally, that it would be important to raise public awareness of the scheme in the UK, in order to ensure widespread understanding and support for BN(O) arrivals and to assist their integration.118

Support from the Government

118.On 8 April, the Government announced the Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) Integration Programme, a £43m package of support to help those on the Hong Kong BN(O) route to settle in the UK. The funding was broken down as follows:

The Government also announced establishment of an inter-Ministerial group to “drive integration work across government” on issues such as access to public services, opportunities and safety for newly arrived status holders.119

119.Integration support for newly arriving Hong Kongers is essential. The Government must ensure there is a robust plan for integration and employment support for BN(O) visa holders arriving to live in the UK. In January we heard significant concerns from witnesses about a lack of awareness and understanding by local authorities of the existence and role of the Hong Kong BN(O) visa route, and its potential consequences in terms of settlement patterns. Following this evidence, we welcome the Government’s recent efforts to set out further action on local support and integration.

120.The Government should also improve the communication and signposting of the support available, for example by making information about the integration programme available in a range of languages and accessible formats.

121.We particularly welcome the establishment of the inter-Ministerial group to co-ordinate support for status holders but note that as yet there is little transparency about the work of this inter-Ministerial group. The Government must provide further information about the frequency of the group’s meetings, its objectives and priorities. The inter-Ministerial group must draw up a clear integration plan to cover issues ranging from employment to English language, to encourage integration and promote community cohesion; it must ensure that Hong Kongers are given the resources and support they need to study, work and participate in civil and community life here in the UK. The group should play a key role in securing and communicating revised estimates of arrivals for local authorities over the lifetime of the visa scheme, to ensure those authorities can continue to plan effectively for likely demand. As the scheme progresses further financial support should be provided to authorities where changes in the settlement pattern make this necessary.

122.While cross-departmental work is welcome, the Home Secretary should also appoint a BN(O) Resettlement Panel to implement the plan from the inter-Ministerial group and to coordinate with local authorities, new residents and civil society groups on how best to support integration for Hong Kongers upon arrival.

93 Individuals who were 23 years old at the time of the Government’s impact assessment may now be 24.

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

97 Immigration statistics year ending March 2021: how many people come to the UK each year including visitors: British National Overseas (BN(O)) route [accessed 25 June 2021]

98 Q15 6 January 2021

99 Q28 6 January 2021

102 Hong Kong passes law that can stop people leaving, the Guardian, 28 April 2021; Hong Kong’s new immigration bill: explainer, Hong Kong Watch 28 April 2021

103 The Times, ‘China warns Britain over offer to 3m Hongkongers’, 2 July 2020 [paywall]

107 Q16 6 January 2021

108 VIS0002 paragraphs 84–85

110 QQ12–13 6 January 2021

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

114 VIS0002 paragraphs 84–85

115 Q17 6 January 2021

116 Q41 6 January 2021

117 Q22 6 January 2021

Published: 7 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement