UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has once more stated his willingness to broaden the rights of British Nationals Overseas passport holders from Hong Kong to live and work in the UK. Following the passing of the extension of Chinese national security law to Hong Kong in the Chinese People’s Congress, questions about the future of the city’s autonomy persist.
Johnson was quoted saying that the UK would have “no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong”.
The program extension would not only apply to the 350,000 who currently hold BNO passports but also to 2.5 million more Hong Kongese eligible for them, most likely those born as British nationals before the handover of Hong Kong in 1997 who chose to hold only the Hong Kong SAR passport until now. Currently, applications for BNO passports for this group remain closed, though. The current BNO passport application program ended with the handing back of the city to China on June 30, 1997.
In the case of a program extension, the UK is planning to up the allowed consecutive maximum stay for Hong Kong BNO passport holders from six to twelve months, also tacking on the right to work. This would lead to a path to citizenship opening up for Hong Kongese BNO passport holders, according to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, as every holder of a UK work visa can pursue that option.
Because of the currently limited benefits of BNO passports, which can be carried in addition to Hong Kong passports, renewals were still low in early 2019, but skyrocketed as pro-democracy protests in the city intensified in the second part of the year. At the moment, the Hong Kong SAR passport also grants the right to stay in the UK for 6 months and allows for visa free entry to 170 countries, compared with the BNO’s 118.