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Britain says 34,300 people had applied for its new BN(O) visas as of the end of March, and 7,200 were already approved. Photo: AFP

More than 34,000 Hongkongers apply for Britain’s new BN(O) visa scheme in its first two months

  • Of those applicants, 7,200 had already been approved as of the end of March, Britain’s Home Office says
  • Some 60 per cent of the applications were filed from outside Britain, while the rest were made inside the country

More than 34,000 Hongkongers applied for a new pathway to British citizenship in the first two months of the scheme, with 7,200 already approved, according to official figures released on Thursday.

The British National (Overseas) visa scheme was launched on January 31 in response to Beijing’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong, one that London said raised human rights concerns and constituted a “clear and serious breach” of the agreement under which the city was returned to China.

As of the end of March, the number of Hongkongers with BN(O) status seeking to take advantage of the scheme stood at 34,300, Home Office figures showed.

Some 60 per cent of those applications were filed from outside Britain, while the rest were made inside the country. Among the 7,200 applications approved so far, 5,600 – or 78 per cent – were filed overseas.

Britain unveils HK$460 million package to support Hong Kong BN(O) arrivals

“The number is quite a lot. But whether the pace [of applications] will get faster will depend on whether anything else happens in Hong Kong that drives more people to leave,” said Willis Fu Yiu-wai, senior immigration consultant for Goldmax Associates.

Fu said that about 100 people a month sought advice from his firm about moving to Britain under the new BN(O) scheme, though not all of them planned to leave the city immediately.

As many as 5.4 million Hongkongers are either BN(O) status holders or their dependents, a legacy of the city’s history as a British colony until 1997. Under the new BN(O) visa scheme, successful applicants are entitled to live, work and study in Britain for up to five years, and to apply for citizenship after six.

The British government last October estimated that as many as a million Hongkongers might make the move over the next five years, though it acknowledged a more realistic forecast was around 320,000.

Line up flats before heading to Britain, leaving Hongkongers told

Roney Chan, 35, arrived in London in January. He was not surprised by the recent figures, because before he left Hong Kong he joined numerous social media platforms and saw a lot of people discussing leaving the city.

Chan waited nervously for around three months for his visa, which was approved last week. He has been accepted for a one-year patisserie course in London’s Cordon Bleu Culinary School, beginning in July. He worked in event marketing in Hong Kong, but said he was hoping to start a new career as a pastry chef.

He moved to the British capital with two friends, also from Hong Kong and in their thirties, because of the political situation in Hong Kong, pointing to a lack of freedoms. The three men are renting a three-bedroom flat in East London for HK$22,000 (US$2,800) a month. They had to pay six months’ rent in advance, because they did not pass the necessary reference checks needed when renting property in Britain.


BN(O) passport holders flee Hong Kong for new life in the UK, fearing Beijing’s tightening control

BN(O) passport holders flee Hong Kong for new life in the UK, fearing Beijing’s tightening control

Chan sold his flat in the New Territories and used the money to move to London, and plans to live off his savings while he studies. He said having that money had been crucial while starting his new life in Britain.

“It is really necessary, because you have to prepare for the worst … In case you don’t get a job for a few months,” he said, adding his flatmates had found jobs as a waiter and construction worker.

“Savings are important. You need to be prepared.”

Other new arrivals from Hong Kong with neither jobs nor credit history have also reported struggling with the ins and outs of the British rental market, where prospective tenants are usually screened thoroughly by landlords.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: 34,000 apply under bn(O) visa scheme