UK rolls out 43m BNO safety net

Top News | Maisy Mok 9 Apr 2021

Britain has announced a 43 million (HK$460 million) support package to help newcomers from Hong Kong carrying BNO passports to adapt to their new lives.

The Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) Integration Program will help families going to the United Kingdom on the BNO visa route to settle with access to housing, work and education support.

The package includes up to 800 per person for English language classes and 2,720 to support a needy household.

Under a plan launched on January 31 an estimated 2.9 million BNO status holders can move to Britain with an estimated 2.3 million eligible dependents.

"This program will ensure British National (Overseas) status holders and their families have the very best start as soon as they arrive and support to help them find a home, schools for their children, opportunity and prosperity," said British Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick.

Also in the program will be funding of 30.7 million for local councils in England to provide targeted support for new arrivals.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will deliver similar support with funding of 5.8 million.

There will also be 12 "virtual welcome" hubs established with funding of 5 million across regions to offer support and advice in applying for school places, registering with doctors and setting up businesses.

And the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will develop dedicated educational resources for schools to teach students about Britain's historic connections and commitments to Hong Kong and its people under a 986,000 scheme.

The UK's offer of the immigration route for BNO status holders followed Beijing's imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong.

But BNO visa migrants are also being reminded there will be a "no recourse to public funds" condition attached to their moves, meaning they will not be able to access most public funding programs, including benefits, tax credits and housing assistance.

But their children are entitled to access state-funded schools.

As of March 19, approximately 27,000 applications for a BNO visa had been received since the program's launch.

The British government's impact assessment in October estimated that between 123,000 and 153,000 BNO status holders and their dependents could take up the offer in its first 12 months.

And immigration experts say that the latest support scheme will attract more people to Britain.

"Without question it demonstrates that the UK government is very serious in supporting Hong Kong nationals to move to the United Kingdom, and adopting the 12 virtual service hubs to support new arrivals is definitely a big plus for the BNO package," said Jean-Francois Harvey, a worldwide managing partner for Harvey Law Group, which specializes in high-net-worth individual immigration.

Goldmax Immigration Consulting director Benny Cheung Ka-hei said: "A lot of people who would like to emigrate are worried about three main things: finding schools for their kids, where to live and finding a job. So the UK government's latest measure is pretty good in boosting the confidence of those preparing to move to Britain as well those making up their minds."

Cheung noted that the BNO visa scheme does not have an asset requirement like other investment migration schemes, so those who move to Britain are of various classes.

But visa applicants must prove they have enough money to support themselves and their family members for at least six months, he added.

In Britain, meanwhile, Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law Kwun-chung praised the support scheme.

Law, who is reportedly wanted in Hong Kong over violating the national security law, also announced on Twitter on Wednesday that he had been granted political asylum by the British Home Office. That came almost 10 months after he fled Hong Kong.

China Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said yesterday that Britain should immediately correct its mistakes in response to Britain granting asylum to Law.

"If the UK publicly supports Hong Kong independence agitators, provides so-called shelter to wanted criminals, then it is a blatant interference in Hong Kong's judicial system, which violates international law and the basic norms of international relations," Zhao said.

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