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

Conclusions and recommendations

The introduction of the new visa route

1.In the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration the UK made a historic commitment to protect the freedom of the people of Hong Kong. Given the grave concerns of Governments, NGOs and human rights experts about the impact of the new security law on Hong Kongers’ freedoms we welcome the Government’s decision to honour this promise through the creation of the British National (Overseas) visa route. This is a substantial and important recognition both of the gravity of the situation in Hong Kong and the commitments made by the UK Government to the people of Hong Kong. (Paragraph 39)

People who are at risk of missing out

2.We have heard that young people are among the most targeted citizens in Hong Kong owing to their increased participation in pro-democracy protests. They are also among the most vulnerable, particularly if they are estranged from their families because of their political opinions and/or have limited financial means which restrict their freedom to seek refuge. However, many of those involved in protests were born after the handover in July 1997 and are therefore not entitled to BN(O) status. We are concerned that this gap in the scheme will leave vulnerable young Hong Kongers at risk and unable to leave. The Government should therefore extend the BN(O) scheme to enable a young person with a BN(O) parent to apply separately from that parent, provided there is evidence of that parent’s status. (Paragraph 57)

3.We also agree with witnesses that the current provisions of the Youth Mobility Scheme—places on which are allotted through a lottery—are inadequate to support the size and needs of this cohort. The Government must provide assurances about the continuing feasibility and effectiveness of the bilateral agreement with the Hong Kong government which underpins the Youth Mobility Scheme and should take steps to remove or raise the cap on places on the scheme given the current circumstances. (Paragraph 58)

4.In order to provide consistency with other pathways to the UK we ask the Government as a matter of urgency to consider, and to report to Parliament, how a five-year pathway to settlement might be made available to this group. (Paragraph 59)

5.Given the threats of imprisonment under the new security law faced by some Hong Kong young people, the asylum system should be another appropriate route for them to be able to follow. It is troubling that we have heard they are deterred from doing so. The current delays in the asylum system which leave young people—not just from Hong Kong—unable to study or work potentially for years before their cases are resolved are a serious problem. The Home Office must urgently address the long delays in the asylum casework system that are preventing it from operating as an effective route to safety and security for those in need of sanctuary. (Paragraph 60)

6.We welcome the statement of intent by the Home Office that discretion will be given in cases where applicants for the BN(O) visa have convictions related to free speech or peaceful protest. We are however concerned that correspondence we received from the Minister failed to provide assurances about the need to investigate the possibility of politically-motivated convictions. (Paragraph 67)

7.Home Office caseworkers should be trained and regularly updated on the developing situation in Hong Kong. The Government must provide assurances that the criminality policy and associated guidance for caseworkers explicitly recognise that convictions and the designation of certain convictions in Hong Kong, including for offences which are also recognised as offences under UK law, may have been politically motivated and should be subject to investigation. We encourage the Government to establish an expert casework team to process Hong Kong BN(O) applications. (Paragraph 68)

8.We support the proposition that intelligence-led checks should be made of applications for the Hong Kong BN(O) visa to identify and screen out agents who intend to monitor and inform on the BN(O) community in the UK on behalf of the Chinese Government. This strengthens the case for having an expert casework team that understands the full complexity of issues affecting Hong Kong. (Paragraph 70)

9.Young people who were eligible but too young to register themselves before handover on 1 July 1997 are being denied access to the Hong Kong BN(O) visa route because, for whatever reason, their parents failed to complete the process. The Government should assess how many young people are likely to have been affected and provide for an extension to the visa route for eligible young people to apply. (Paragraph 73)

10.We were concerned to hear that provisions in the Hong Kong BN(O) visa route rules may penalise couples on lower incomes and same-sex couples who because of societal pressures in Hong Kong are unable to live in the same household. The Home Office should review its equality impact assessment to ensure that this issue and others which may arise from societal expectations and circumstances in Hong Kong have been appropriately considered. (Paragraph 77)

Barriers to application

11.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. (Paragraph 87)

12.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. (Paragraph 90)

13.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. (Paragraph 96)

14.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. (Paragraph 97)

15.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. (Paragraph 100)

Settlement in the UK

16.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. (Paragraph 119)

17.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. (Paragraph 120)

18.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. (Paragraph 121)

19.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. (Paragraph 122)


20.The Government’s decision to offer a Hong Kong BN(O) visa scheme is an extremely important and welcome expression of the UK’s historic relationship with, and continued commitment to support, the citizens of Hong Kong. As we have experienced with previous community arrivals into the UK, we expect individuals and families arriving from Hong Kong will enrich the life of our communities and contribute towards our economy. It is essential that the Government also continues to monitor the situation in Hong Kong. It must review its estimates of demand for the scheme regularly so that support for status holders in the UK may be effectively planned and resourced, centrally and locally. It must ensure that strong measures are in place to promote integration and community cohesion. (Paragraph 123)

21.There remain worrying gaps in this offer of support, notably for young people born since 1 July 1997 who we have heard are particularly vulnerable to political targeting by Beijing. (Paragraph 124)

22.Amending the scheme, and making the associated changes we have recommended in this report will enable the Government to improve the scheme further and help to ensure that it provides the genuine protection and assistance the Government set out to provide. (Paragraph 125)

Published: 7 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement