UK's BNO visa scheme, nothing but a scam
Published: Jan 31, 2024 06:39 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

In January 2021, Britain offered British National (Overseas) (BNO) passport holders in Hong Kong the right of citizenship in the UK. When reflecting on the actions of the UK government over the past three years, it is difficult not to question whether the BNO visa scheme is a genuine promise or a deceptive scam.

A violation of UK's own commitment

The implementation of the BNO visa scheme is a blatant violation of the UK's commitment made in its own memorandum exchanged with the Chinese side.

On December 19, 1984, China and the UK signed a joint declaration on the question of Hong Kong. On the same day, the two sides exchanged a memorandum of understanding on the issue of BNO passports. The UK then decided not to confer the right of abode in the UK on BNO passport holders who are Chinese citizens residing in Hong Kong.

In January 2021, the UK brazenly went against its own promises and opened route for BNO passport holders to have the right of abode and citizenship. In October 2022, the UK announced an expansion of the BNO visa scheme coverage, allowing Hong Kong youth without BNO passports to submit applications using their parents' BNO status.

BNO visa applicants are UK's ATMs  

The financially struggling UK government regards BNO visa applicants as its ATMs from which large amounts of easy money are being continuously withdrawn.

This visa policy requires applicants to not only pay a significant application fee and healthcare surcharge, but also prove that they have enough money to cover housing and support themselves and their family for six months. It costs £180 to apply for a two-year and six-month stay per person, and £250 for five years. Correspondingly, each adult needs to pay £1,560 and £3,120 as a healthcare surcharge. 

According to the UK's official figures in December 2023, about 191,000 Hong Kong residents applied for the visa scheme between its launch in January 2021 and September 2023, with 184,700 receiving approval. Assuming that they all applied for a five-year visa, the application fee and healthcare surcharge would amount to £47.8 million and £576.3 million, respectively, without taking their family members into account.

In August 2023, the UK Home Office announced that it would provide priority services for BNO visas. Previously, applicants typically received a decision within 12 weeks of the application date. With the new priority service, applicants can enjoy a "priority service" and get a decision within five working days if they pay an additional £500. If they pay an additional £1,000, they can enjoy a "super priority service" and, the results will be available as soon as the next working day. The UK government has spared no effort in using the BNO visa scheme to accumulate wealth.

Dim future under new migration policy

Numerous reports have revealed that Hong Kong residents who have gone to the UK with BNO visas are facing many difficulties, including unemployment and underemployment, language barriers, racial discrimination, and high taxes. As the UK government plans to reduce immigration levels, the future for BNO visa scheme applicants looks even bleaker.

Recently, British Home Secretary James Cleverly announced the UK's plans to cut the annual number of migrant arrivals by 300,000 people. According to the website of the UK Home Office, measures will be taken to end the high numbers of dependants coming to the UK, as well as to increase the minimum salaries that overseas workers and British or settled people sponsoring family members must earn.

Apparently, the UK government's new plan would send a negative message to all immigrants including applicants for the BNO scheme - once their value was used up, they would face risks of being kicked out of the country. What makes the situation for BNO scheme applicants even worse is that the UK government has never revealed to them the details on how to obtain citizenship.

BNO visa scheme as a total scam

The UK government opened up a pathway for BNO passport holders to citizenship in the UK under the guise of "historical responsibility" toward Hong Kong, and attempted to package itself as a "defender" of democracy, freedom and rights. Nevertheless, what the UK government has done over the past three years has shown to the world that its BNO visa scheme has nothing to do with democracy or freedom. Essentially, it is just a carefully crafted scam by traditional colonial power, purely driven by political and financial interests.

The author is a current affairs commentator. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn