The following Q&A video interview is about obtaining your UK BNO Visa, and it provides the best advice you can get!
Conducted in late January 2021 between Garrick Hedges, Managing Director of HK UK Support, and Usman Sheikh, a practicing UK Immigration Lawyer.
Below is a transcript of this interview. The questions posed by Garrick for Usman are highlighted in the transcript subtitles, along with their equivalent location timings in the video.
How To Get Your BNO UK Visa 2021 – Best Advice
GARRICK: My name is Garrick Hedges. I’m the managing director of Hong Kong UK Support, and we help Hong Kong people relocate to the UK, and help with all aspects of their life in the UK.
I’m here with Usman, so Usman can you just introduce yourself and explain what it is that you do?
USMAN: Sure, so my name is Usman, and I run Ansar which is a law firm helping people to obtain visas and passports for the UK.
GARRICK: Great, thank you. So, today we’re going to go through some questions about the Hong Kong BNO Visa, and just generally the situation for Hong Kong people moving to the UK, in terms of immigration.
QUESTION: How do people prove that they normally live in Hong Kong?
GARRICK: So, I think one question that has come up recently around the Hong Kong BNO Visa, is how people can prove that they normally live in Hong Kong?
Because there are some people who, maybe, they spend time working overseas in other countries other than Hong Kong – but Hong Kong is still their main base.
So how could somebody prove that they normally live in a country for the purposes of a UK visa?
USMAN: So, I mean I think the the basic answer is I think that the government is likely to be quite flexible with the evidence that people provide. And that’s a real feature of this Hong Kong visa scheme in general.
Normally the UK Government is very very particular about which documents you provide in support of an application, and frankly if you don’t provide the right ones then they’ll refuse the application.
Now with the Hong Kong visa category, you know everything that they’ve said so far indicates that they will be flexible. And so you know I think a range of documents may be appropriate or possible, to show that you’re ordinarily resident in Hong Kong.
The most obvious things would be things like property documents, employment documents, perhaps documents from your children’s school, etc. etc.
But I suppose the more precise answer would be, in due course, the government should publish its own kind of detailed guidance on the Hong Kong visa scheme which will provide further details about the the types of documents that they will expect.
GARRICK: Great thank you. I think that the point of the further information coming out I think there are a few question marks around some maybe slightly vague wording from the information the government have released so far, and I have seen a lot of people trying to interpret it themselves about what those terms mean – should or must or could.
USMAN: Yeah, I suppose at one level I would say it’s a classic example of, I suppose, where an immigration lawyer can help. Because a lot of people would just look at a term like say ‘ordinary residents’ and think that it was kind of a very simple term that they could interpret their own way. Now, actually ‘ordinary residents’ is a very specific legal term, if you like, it’s used in very particular ways in different legal contexts. For example in immigration law or in education law or health law for example, as well.
The term ‘ordinary residence’ is used, there have been various cases before the courts, all about the meaning of the term ‘ordinary residents’ in those contexts. So I suppose it’s precisely why if an applicant wants to make sure that they get these things right then you know I think it is helpful to take advice from an immigration lawyer.
GARRICK: It’s good. I think there’s definitely people who have some gray areas in their case, and you know it is a risk just to apply and see how it goes. Because if they reject you then, that puts you in a very difficult position doesn’t it?
USMAN: Yeah, I think so. Generally speaking, you know I always say, you know I always try to get applications right the first time.
Because I know that if an application is refused it is possible to be successful second time, or to be successful in the challenge, legal challenge to the decision. But generally speaking you know that’s harder, and you know obviously, what applicants want is just to get it right first time, just to save themselves the time and the money.
QUESTION: Is it better for one parent to apply for their Visa first or should the family do it all together?
GARRICK: That’s great, so another hot topic, I think from the very beginning of from when the BNO Visa was first announced back in June or July, is about one parent going before the other parent. So either one parent going by themselves first, or – I guess they call that the astronaut – or one parent going with the children while the other parent stays behind in Hong Kong to continue working.
So I think the government has released more information around that, but again I think it does fall into the category of having some vague wording. So what what’s your current thoughts on that topic?
USMAN: Yeah sure, so I mean I think broadly speaking I think it’s helpful if the whole family can apply together for their visa, and then obviously if somebody you know one person needs to come a little bit later then that’s okay. You know I think, you know obviously, even if it’s a situation where the family goes to the UK and another family member has to stay behind for business, you know for a period of time, that’s not normally going to cause big problems. There should be ways around this.
My main concern really in these situations, is where the family is going to be separated for a very long period of time. The reason for that is, it can start to create questions in the minds of the UK Government about whether they are, you know, a family unit.
The most obvious example is where say a husband and wife, say for example husband and wife with no children, if the husband and wife are set here are separate or living in different countries for a long period of time. Then it’s quite easy then for the government to come to the conclusion that they’re not actually in, a what they call a kind of subsisting relationship. So relationship that is kind of still enforced still exists, and so in those circumstances, even if they’ve issued a visa already, they can turn around and “say well based on what we can see now actually we’re going to cancel your visa”.
Then and obviously if they do that then at that stage, you know it is a very kind of long and difficult struggle to to sort out the problem.
GARRICK: I see so that’s when you get the cases that can potentially drag out for years to resolve.
USMAN: I mean they can do. Again, from what I’ve seen so far with the Hong Kong scheme, I’m not expecting you know, a lot of I suppose opposition or hostility from the UK Government in these applications.
I mean everything I’ve seen so far indicates that they’re trying to do what they can to make it easy for people from Hong Kong to come here. But you know, obviously you know, those sorts of things can change quite quickly and you know obviously politics can change very quickly and so it’s important to try to avoid those kind of scenarios where possible.
GARRICK: I don’t know if you have seen, but they’ve now actually included ‘Hong Konger’ as a nationality on the government website?
USMAN: Yeah quite well, I mean I hadn’t actually spotted that specifically, but I think that’s that’s a really interesting development because, you know, it’s precisely the sort of thing that shows the direction that they’re currently in.
But of course you know, anyone with any kind of political memory in this country knows that you know this change towards China and towards Hong Kong has come about very recently, and you know if it can change one way it can also change back the other way.
So I think it’s another reason why it’s important for people to secure their positions as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: If a married couple each have their own BNO passport, is it OK for them to apply at separate times?
GARRICK: So on the same point again about the parents and the family. If you had two parents who both hold a BNO passport, so they could both apply for the BNO Visa, and they applied separately, would that make any difference to the the situation?
USMAN: As I was saying earlier, if there’s a short gap, I think it’s okay. I think the problems may arise, where you know, say that the husband and wife in this situation are living separately for a long period of time.
Just because I think just from my own experience of the home office, you know from dealing with many cases of many years, I know that that’s exactly the kind of scenario that can make them ask questions, and even for example just a border official, you know if they can see that somebody is going in and out of the country a lot they’re spending long periods of time outside the UK.
You know when that person then actually returns to the UK, they could just say, he could look at the visa and say “hang on a sec, fine, we can see that you’ve got the visa, but actually we can also see that you’ve been traveling a lot out of the country.
So we’re going to hold you here for a little, while we’re going to ask you some difficult questions, and if we don’t like the answers then frankly we can cancel your visa and put you on the next flight back to Hong Kong.”
GARRICK: So that’s a, I think, that’s a very good example, so yeah. So it really just depends on how I think this is the point isn’t it, that it’s not the terms and the phrases that they use are not just clear cut.
This is how it works for everyone, it is people’s personal situations and how they act afterwards, isn’t it?
It’s not just getting the visa, it’s also after you get the visa, what do you do then?
USMAN: Exactly. I think that’s a really important point. I think you know what a lot of people need to realize is that what they’re being given, first of all, is it’s a visa rather than, and that I suppose that kind of short term visa specifically, and is not a permanent visa, and they’re also not being given a British passport straight away.
Now you know if you wanted to criticize the British Government, you could say that perhaps they should have issued a permanent visa straight away at the beginning or a British passport, but you know for various reasons they’ve chosen not to do that. That does mean that there is always the risk that even after getting the visa, somebody might lose the visa, basically.
So I think it is important for people to be careful about these kinds of situations.
QUESTION: How easy is this BNO Visa application likely to be when compared to traditional visa applications?
GARRICK: Okay, this is a bit of a, maybe a difficult question to actually answer but… how easy do you think the application process will be?
Because they’re saying they’ll base it on the online process they were using for the European citizens, how easy do you do you think it would be compared to maybe a more traditional type of visa?
USMAN: Well sure, I think the EU example is a really good one. Because that is another scheme that the government has introduced recently, to deal with a large number of applicants, actually potentially a similar number of, and the government has I think really done a lot to make that scheme as easy as possible.
As I said earlier, I think everything that I’ve seen about the Hong Kong scheme suggests that they are taking a similar approach. So they’re trying to be flexible about, for example the process whether you apply in the UK or from Hong Kong, what kind of evidence you
provide, whether you apply for a short-term visa or a long-term visa, which family members you can bring to the UK, etc. etc.
So I think that they I think all of those things indicate that the process for most people will be reasonably easy. Certainly you talked about comparison, well the obvious comparisons with Chinese nationals. You know Chinese nationals applying to the UK are going to need to go through a kind of a normal immigration scheme, which you know frankly is quite difficult for a lot of people.
You know the fees are a lot higher, the government interprets the rules much more strictly. So I think it’s really important for people from Hong Kong to have that perspective, and to see that compared to many other people going through the immigration system, actually they are in a very a very positive situation.
QUESTION: Will people need the support of an Immigration Lawyer, and if so, when will be best?
GARRICK: Good, I agree. I think they really have a such a great opportunity with this visa to come to the UK for at least five years and hopefully much longer.
So I think we have touched on this one a couple of times, but do you think that people will need support of a immigration lawyer as part of this process or when do you think they would need support?
USMAN: Sure, okay, so I think it’s a really good question. You know I will be entirely clear about this, as I’ve said earlier, I think for most people the process should be fairly simple.
So the short answer to your question is I think that most people will be able to deal with most of the process on their own without an immigration lawyer. So a place in Hong Kong where, in any case, I think a lot of people are going to have a very high level of education, a high level of professional qualifications and experience, and also you know people are going to be very tech savvy, very kind of familiar with using online processes etc. etc.
So I think for most people I think all of that is very positive. However I think that it is important for people to realize that they’re not in a position to assess whether or not they have a simple case. Because you can only say whether or not somebody has a simple case if you understand the rules and the law behind it.
So I think what’s helpful for everyone really, is to at least have an initial discussion with an immigration lawyer which doesn’t need to be expensive. and from that to be able to see whether or not they need support from an immigration lawyer to deal with the rest of the process.
As I said, I think most people won’t need that help the rest of the process, but some people will have specific issues. For example of the type that we’ve already discussed, and in those cases I think it would be helpful for people to get further help from an immigration lawyer.
GARRICK: I think that the idea of just having an initial kind of inquiry into how complex their case could be, and what challenges could come up for them personally, from somebody like yourself who has a lot of experience with these type of cases, makes a lot of sense.
Because sometimes you’ll look at yourself and think “oh no, it’s simple for me, there’s not anything that could go wrong” and then it turns out there there are issues, potentially. Between the lines even, because like we’ve kind of touched upon a few times that the terms are vague, and in those vague terms there’s decades of case history that have actually developed what those terms mean. So people just can’t understand themselves.
USMAN: Exactly, I think broadly speaking, the obvious categories of people that should certainly consult an immigration lawyer, will probably need help with the whole of their application.
So people with any kind of political profile which could, you know, include activists, it could also include, for example people that have funded any other political activities. And then I think also anyone who’s had any kind of dealings with the authorities in Hong Kong, I’m particularly thinking about people with any kind of level of criminal record.
That could even include, for example, a criminal record as a result of political activities. You know all of these sorts of people I think in this kind of situation, I think it’s very important to take advice at the earliest possible opportunity.
But as I say, you know, even people who don’t fall into those categories should at least take initial advice from an immigration lawyer because frankly, you know small mistakes can cause very big problems when it comes to immigration. People think about coming to the UK and buying a house for example, there’s no use having a house here if you don’t have a visa because your house will be empty.
QUESTION: If somebody has an ‘aged’ criminal record, is this likely to cause problems with their application?
GARRICK: Exactly, that’s a good point. Without going into too much detail for these things, if somebody has a criminal record from say 5 years ago, is that still going to be something they should be concerned about?
USMAN: The short answer is obviously, the longer ago the offense the less of a problem, and you know, the smaller the offense the less of a problem. So if you have a very serious conviction last year, then that’s kind of a much bigger issue, but if you had a sort of a very small issue that came up a long time ago or years ago then that’s a relatively small issue.
But, you know really those sorts of things are going to be very fact specific and so it’s difficult to really sort of make a general comment on that.
The main thing I would say is that it is very important for people to understand that criminality is kind of a big issue, like a big red flag, in the immigration system the UK immigration system. That’s whether the criminality occurred outside the UK or inside the UK.
So that’s certainly an issue that’s likely to make cases more complicated.
QUESTION: What are some of the legal challenges that people could face further down the line if they omit something from their application?
GARRICK: I think that’s very clear. Good, so I think that leads directly on to the next one is what kind of legal challenges could people face further down the line if they do maybe miss something on their application or don’t fill it out exactly, or they have something in their past that they don’t think would be an issue, like some political donations or something along those lines.
What legal challenges could they potentially come up against?
USMAN: Well, there are kind of a very big range of difficulties that people could come and come up against and one of them is the refusal or the rejection of their application.
I mentioned those two times precisely, actually because I suppose it’s an example of the complexity of the system. So the government in the immigration rules now makes a distinguish a distinction between refusing an application and rejecting an application.
For most native English speakers they’ll probably see absolutely no difference between those two terms, but actually there can be very significant differences. Particularly to do with the extent to which you can challenge the decision, that it’s going to depend on whether it’s been refused or rejected.
And also your status, so one issue that can arise is if your application has been rejected so if you’re in the UK and your application has been rejected then you could find that you are immediately then an ‘overstay’, so you’re in the UK without a visa! And that could then make your future applications much more difficult.
So you know things like that are at the relatively simple end of the scale. At the more complicated end of the scale, you mentioned people with political issues, well some of those some of those may actually need to make a claim for asylum the UK.
And again, that’s certainly a category of people who need to take legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity, because those cases are never simple, frankly.
I think there’s already been some news reports of some people from Hong Kong who’ve come to the UK, and they’ve specifically applied for asylum, rather than waiting for the the visa scheme to start.
GARRICK: If somebody did apply for asylum and then they were rejected, I don’t know if that’s the right time for asylum, would they then be able to have the choice to apply for a visa later on or would it make it really complicated?
USMAN: I mean, I think you could certainly say in general terms it would make it very complicated. I mean normally if your asylum application is refused then you would be able to apply to, you’d normally be able to appeal to the tribunal in this country against the decision.
But not always, so as I say, those sorts of cases are very complicated, and I think certainly in these circumstances it’s very important to get personalized and individual advice.
QUESTION: What should people do in advance of a Visa application to help the process go smoothly?
GARRICK: I think it’s quite a very serious end of the process isn’t it? So as as we’re now really a few weeks away from people being able to start applying for a BNO Visa, what do you think they should be doing now, to prepare or to get ready, for the application to help them do it smoothly?
USMAN: Sure, well I think the main thing is take advice on all aspects of the relocation process. Some of that might be the immigration advice, sorts of things I’ve talked about, but of course people don’t obtain a visa just for the sake of having a visa, they obtain a visa so that they can come here and live their lives here.
There are many other things that they’ll need to take advice on. You know in terms of buying property or finding property in the UK, potentially finding schools or universities for their children, finding work for themselves, so I think all of these things are things that people need to think about well in advance. Because frankly they don’t happen overnight.
QUESTION: If people have concerns about a future Visa application, is now the time to seek professional help? (00:24:42)
GARRICK: Yeah, definitely not. A very good point, thank you. How about if people did have cases that they’re concerned about, then maybe they feel quite compelled to get some kind of support for their visa already.
Is now a good start time to start talking to somebody like yourself, or should they wait until the visa is open, or should they be doing that now?
USMAN: I think certainly now is a good time, because although the visa scheme hasn’t started, yet nevertheless you know it’s going to start soon. And you know there’s lots of preparation work that would need to be done before you can submit the application if you want to have a good chance of a successful application.
So it’s important to do that preparation work now, and I think from what I know of the situation in Hong Kong, I think that many people will want to be in a position to move to the UK as soon as possible, you know as early as possible after the scheme starts.
QUESTION: How long do you expect Visa applications will take to process?
GARRICK: Yes, so how how long, I think this is gonna have to be a pure guess, but how long do you think it would take for the application process. Because I know traditionally maybe three or four weeks, but then the European case was quicker, but we haven’t said but.
USMAN: I think generally speaking, you know I think probably most people will probably say a few weeks perhaps, a month roughly to prepare for the visa, prepare for the visa application I should say, and then I think once once we’ve submitted the application for a decision it’s difficult to say how quickly they’re going to consider them.
But I would guess that they’re going to do these within around a month. But then bear in mind so that you know with the situation with coronavirus there may be further delays.
GARRICK: Yeah that’s true the passport’s been taking far longer.
USMAN: Exactly, it’s a difficulty at the moment.
GARRICK: Even like my passport took months to send off and get back. So it was very slow.
USMAN: So you know it’s happening a lot, for a lot of people.
GARRICK: Yeah, great. So are there any other points that you think people should be thinking about at the moment, or do you think we’ve covered the main areas?
USMAN: I think we have covered the main areas. I think that you know the main points. I think what I’ve seen so far, the UK Government wants to welcome many people from Hong Kong to the UK. You know I just think people from Hong Kong need to just be careful about how they negotiate and manage the process.
And you know, I think the main thing I want to say is that many people have a lot to contribute to this country, so you know from my point of view, I would say that there are many opportunities for people when they start their lives here.
GARRICK: Yeah I really agree. I think a really big positive is that it does, like you said a few times, it does appear as though the UK Government is trying to make it the easiest possible process for Hong Kong people, and being more on the side of being lenient rather than being very harsh on people which has kind of been evident with LOTR.
It has been quite a smooth process for a lot of people. But still people do need to just make sure they do it properly, because you know the UK immigration system, once something does go wrong, it’s quite a tough place to be
USMAN: Certainly, I think that’s exactly right
GARRICK: But I think it’d be amazing to have so many Hong Kong people come to the UK because, they are very hardworking and well educated, and just generally good people. So, I think they have a lot to contribute and a lot of opportunities, so it’d be good to see as many as possible successfully make it through the process.
USMAN: Sure yeah you are definitely right and I’m happy to help.
GARRICK: Good. So I think if people do want to talk about actually having some support and guidance through the process of their visa, and to to start finding out if you consider them to be a complex case, or where you think that they’ll be okay, I’ll be able to put them in touch with you directly.
So, if anybody does want some to have a conversation and to have some support just let me know, and I can put you in touch through an email introduction, and then you can go from there kind of discuss their options and how you can begin to support them. Then hopefully can help as many people as possible to to have a smooth and successful start to their life in the UK.
USMAN: Absolutely, as I said earlier happy to help and I look forward to guiding people through the process.
GARRICK: Great thank you so much, it’s been really good talking and I’ll speak again soon.
USMAN: Sure, thank you. Bye.
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