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As UK receives 88,800 visa applications from Hong Kong BN(O)s since January, Oxford research shows those planning to move are predominantly young and skilled

02 Dec 2021

A major new survey of British National (Overseas) status holders in Hong Kong, published today by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, shows that people considering taking up the new route to settlement in the UK are younger and more educated than those planning to stay behind. 

The new survey is the only large-scale representative survey that looks at the migration intentions of BN(O) citizens in Hong Kong, undertaken by Oxford University sociologists Dr Man-Yee Kan and Dr Lindsay Richards. It shows that potential movers to the UK are predominantly young (50% were born in the 1980s or 1990s). Compared to those who plan to stay in Hong Kong, potential UK movers were more likely to have university education (33% vs. 22%) and more likely to be in full-time employment (60% vs. 50%). Ninety percent had at least A-level or post-secondary education.  

The survey found that the UK was the preferred option among BN(O)s in Hong Kong who expressed an interest in leaving the country, with 33% placing it as their top destination, ahead of second-place Taiwan (23%), Australia (15%) and Canada (11%). London was the most common choice of destination city, favoured by 42% of potential movers and well ahead of second-place Manchester (12%). 

Home Office data released last week showed that 88,800 people had applied for the BN(O) route by the end of September. While many more said they were ‘considering’ applying (32% of surveyed BN(O) status holders), only 3% said they had already applied and 4% said that they ‘will apply’. Many of those considering moving did not plan to move immediately or were uncertain about when they might move, suggesting that concrete migration plans will not necessarily materialize.  

The survey finds that dissatisfaction with a wide range of political, social and economic factors in Hong Kong is much higher among potential UK movers than those who plan to stay behind. For example, a majority of potential UK movers were dissatisfied with the credibility of the police (52%) and the trustworthiness of the government (57%). A majority of potential UK movers were also dissatisfied with economic factors such as the cost of living in Hong Kong (53%) – though 63% also said they expected to face a pay cut if they moved to the UK, suggesting better wages were not a primary driver of decisions. Many also cited prospects for their children as a factor motivating a preference for the UK. 

Dr Man-Yee Kan, Associate Professor in the department of Sociology at the University of Oxford, and lead researcher on the survey, said: “The UK Government’s offer of rights to live and work in Britain, and a route to long term settlement for those who hold BN(O) status, is clearly attractive for many. Our respondents cited a wide range of social, economic, political and personal factors that made them favour the UK – overall it suggests that Hong Kong BN(O)s see the UK as somewhere that respects the rule of law, protects people’s freedoms, and offers prospects for their children.” 

The changes to the rights of BN(O) status holders came into force in January 2021, and allowed these people and their families to apply to travel to the UK to live, work and study. The route does not confer refugee status and requires the applicant to pay fees of almost £3,400 to move to the UK under the route, which includes the NHS surcharge. Further costs would also be incurred for those wishing to secure settlement and citizenship in the UK. 

Dr Peter William Walsh, researcher at the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford said: “The BN(O) route to the UK has already generated significant numbers of applications, but it’s not a particularly cheap option. For a family of three to use this route to get citizenship in the UK would take at least five years and cost about £20,000.” 


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