British National (Overseas)

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British National (Overseas), commonly known as BN(O), is one of the major classes of British nationality under British nationality law. Holders of this nationality are British nationals and Commonwealth citizens, but not British citizens. The nationality BN(O) does not grant right of abode anywhere in the world, not in the United Kingdom or Hong Kong,[1] but almost all BN(O)s are permanent residents of Hong Kong. BN(O)s are subject to British immigration controls and do not have the automatic right to live or work in the United Kingdom.[2]

The British National (Overseas) status was created by the Hong Kong Act 1985 in anticipation of Hong Kong's reversion to Chinese sovereignty on 1 July 1997. This nationality was "tailor-made" for Hong Kong residents with British Dependent Territories Citizen (BDTC) status by virtue of their connection with Hong Kong: it allowed the people of Hong Kong to retain a relationship with the United Kingdom after the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China and enjoy consular protection as British nationals except in the People's Republic of China, including Hong Kong and Macao.[3] From 1 July 1987 to 30 June 1997, nearly 3.4 million of British Dependent Territories Citizens in Hong Kong successfully registered for British National (Overseas). BDTC has ceased to exist in Hong Kong on 1 July 1997.

General information about the BN(O) status[edit]

The eligibilities of registering for the nationality British National (Overseas) are:[4]

  • It could only be acquired by registration, not automatically.
  • It could only be acquired before the end of the registration period in 1997.
  • It can be held with another nationality or citizenship, including another form of British nationality (e.g. British citizenship).
  • It cannot be transmitted (children of British Nationals (Overseas) cannot gain such status).
  • Once renounced, it cannot be regained.
  • It cannot be lost automatically, but it can be lost by deprivation.
  • British Nationals (Overseas) can enter the UK for up to six months as a visitor, but must obtain a visa to reside in the UK for more than six months or to study or work there.
  • British Nationals (Overseas) are legally entitled to hold a passport in that status.
  • British Nationals (Overseas) who held no other citizenship on 19 March 2009 are entitled to register as full British citizens.[5]

Provisions regarding eligibility to the BN(O) status can be found in section 4 of the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986,[6] as amended by section 2 of the Hong Kong (British Nationality) (Amendment) Order 1993.[7]



By the late 1970s, it had become a public concern in British Hong Kong that the 99-year land lease of the New Territories, a major region north of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, to the United Kingdom would expire in around 20 years. Governor MacLeHose first raised this question during his office in Hong Kong. The public concern immediately resulted in a series of negotiations between the Chinese and British government in the early 1980s on the future prospect of Hong Kong. After rounds of intense negotiations, both countries signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration on 9 December 1984; the Declaration stated that the British would give up sovereignty and administration in Hong Kong on 1 July 1997, when China resumes her sovereignty over the city.

The signing of this Declaration was initially well received by the international community, despite Hong Kong's deep fear of regressing into a socialist-communism system of government with totalitarian authorities. As a response to this fear, the late Chairman Deng Xiaoping came up with the promise of one country, two systems (two systems in operation within the same country). His gesture was able to resume temporarily trust and confidence in the future of Hong Kong. In order to further reinforce confidence among the British Dependent Territories Citizens in Hong Kong, Margaret Thatcher's government introduced a new class of British nationality, through the Hong Kong Act 1985, which was one of the provisions in the United Kingdom Memorandum to the Sino-British Joint Declaration. This would allow the British nationals of Hong Kong to retain an appropriate relationship with the United Kingdom after 1997.

Creation of the nationality: Hong Kong Act 1985[edit]

The new class of British nationality, known as British National (Overseas), was created by the Hong Kong Act 1985. This new type of nationality would be granted for life upon successful registration but non-hereditary. British Dependent Territories Citizens who chose not to register immediately would remain as such, but cease to be a British national upon their BDTC's expiry on 1 July 1997.

British National (Overseas) passport advertisement by the British Consulate-General, Hong Kong and Macao in 2004.

The 1985 Act was brought into effect by the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986. Article 4(2) of the Order 1986 gave the provision that adults and minors who had a connection to Hong Kong were entitled to register as British Nationals (Overseas).[8]

Becoming a British National (Overseas) was therefore neither an automatic nor an involuntary process. Nevertheless, many eligible people who had the requisite connection with Hong Kong never applied to become British Nationals (Overseas). To make it involuntary or automatic would have been contrary to the assurances as given to the Chinese government; as a result, the words "eligible to" were chosen for paragraph (a) of the United Kingdom Memorandum to the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Any person, who failed to register as a British National (Overseas) by 1 July 1997 and would thereby be rendered stateless, automatically became a British Overseas citizen under article 6(1) of the Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986. The deadline for applications passed in 1997.

Acquisition of BN(O) after 1 July 1997[edit]

It is not possible to gain the British National (Overseas) nationality after its final registration deadline of 31 December 1997, even by any person who has connections by means of birth or permanent residence in Hong Kong before 1 July 1997. [6]

British National (Overseas) is non-hereditary, i.e. children born on or after 1 July 1997 to parents who are British National (Overseas) cannot acquire this nationality. The population of British National (Overseas), therefore, would continue to decline over the next decades and eventually become extinct.

Registration procedure[edit]

The registration procedure of the British National (Overseas) began on 1 July 1987. Applications were lodged at Hong Kong's Immigration Department, passport offices in the United Kingdom or at British Embassies, Consulates or Diplomatic Missions abroad. In the initial years, the majority of BDTC opted to keep their original British nationality; only 15% of the passport applications was made for the BN(O) passport.[9]

In order to avoid peaks in the registration process towards 1 July 1997, the British government, by means of enacting the Hong Kong (British Nationality) (Amendment) Order 1993, divided Hong Kong British Dependent Territories Citizens into several groups in 1993 by their year of birth. Each group was given a deadline for applying the British National (Overseas) nationality and passport until 30 September 1997.[10] All late applicants (within a certain age group) without a legitimate written explanation would be deprived of their right to register.

British Dependent Territories Citizenship in Hong Kong officially ceased to exist after 1 July 1997. Those who had acquired Hong Kong's British Dependent Territories citizenship between 1 January and 30 June 1997, however, were allowed to register until 30 September of the same year, three months after the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong. In light of the United Kingdom Memorandum to the Joint Declaration, 31 December 1997 was the final expiry date for any eligible person to register for the British National (Overseas).

British Nationality Selection Scheme (1990)[edit]

After a brief period of optimism after Deng's promise to retain Hong Kong's British Common Law, to safeguard the independence of judicial proceedings from government intervention and to preserve the capitalist market economy, response to the initial registration for the British National (Overseas) was unenthusiastic.

On 4 June 1989, the Massacre in Beijing of unarmed university students, however, entirely eliminated the credibility of the Chinese government among British nationals (both British Dependent Territories Citizens and British National (Overseas)) of Hong Kong. Under pressure from the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, the government of United Kingdom created a selection scheme to grant British Citizenship to 50,000 households, who were mostly high-ranking civil servants of vital talents to Hong Kong.

After the transfer of sovereignty[edit]

As of 31 December 1997, around 3.4 million of Hong Kong's British Dependent Territories Citizens successfully became British National (Overseas) and there were around 2.7 million valid British National (Overseas) passports in use. About 2 million residents of Hong Kong were not eligible to register for the British National (Overseas). Many of them were either not British Dependent Territories Citizens and or they held only Hong Kong Certificates of Identity instead of having the right of permanent residence. A small number of British Dependent Territories Citizens was chosen by a selection scheme for the British Citizenship before 1997.

Prior to the transfer of sovereignty, the data of British Nationals (Overseas) were collected and managed by the Immigration Department Hong Kong. Since 1998, the Hong Kong Regional Passport Processing Centre of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, based at British Consulate-General of Hong Kong, shared the responsibility of administering the British National (Overseas) database.

Passports and visa requirements for BN(O)[edit]

British Nationals (Overseas) are entitled to apply for BN(O) passports. They are lookalike versions of the British Citizen passports, but do not bear the text "European Union" on the cover. As of 2007 newly issued passports are of biometric versions.

Visa requirements for British Nationals (Overseas) page list visa requirements for the BN(O). BN(O) passport holders enjoy visa-free access to many countries. The UK Government is not seeking further expansion of visa-free travel worldwide for BN(O) passport holders resident in Hong Kong.[11]

Rights and privileges[edit]

Civic rights[edit]

British Nationals (Overseas) are Commonwealth citizens and therefore enjoy certain rights when visiting or residing in the United Kingdom.[12] Under British law, BN(O)s are not legally treated as an alien to the United Kingdom. As a visitor, BN(O)s do not require a visa or entry certificate when visiting the United Kingdom for less than 6 months. When residing in the United Kingdom, BNO(s) derive rights as Commonwealth citizens: They are not required to register with the local police; they are eligible to join Her Majesty's Civil Service and can also register to vote in local, national and European elections.[13] British Nationals (Overseas) can be conferred British honours, receive peerages and become peers of the House of Lords. If living in the UK without any immigration restrictions, they can also stand as candidates for election to the Parliament and local councils.

Working holiday[edit]

British Nationals (Overseas) can apply to enter the United Kingdom on a working holiday under the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS) visa. They do not face an annual quota or require a government or employer as their sponsor in order to take part in the Scheme. BN(O) applicants who hold funds of £1,600 or more and aged 18–30 are eligible to apply. YMS entry clearance holders are free to perform many employment activities (with certain restrictions) when in the United Kingdom for two years. This privilege is shared by British Overseas Citizens and British Overseas Territories citizen, although the latter have less restrictions as they can register themselves as British Citizens.[14][15]

British citizenship[edit]

As of 2014, British Nationals (Overseas) can register as British citizens (instead of applying for naturalisation) under section 4 of the British Nationality Act 1981 when they have resided legally in the United Kingdom for five years, the last year of which must have been without any immigration restrictions, such as a valid Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).


People's Republic of China[edit]

Although British Nationals (Overseas) are British nationals under British nationality law, the People's Republic of China does not recognise dual nationality; therefore, they regard British National (Overseas) who are ethnically Chinese solely as Chinese nationals.[16]

As a result, BN(O)s are not entitled to British consular protection in China, Hong Kong and Macao.[17] This practice has been realised in one high-profiled case: in April 2005, Ching Cheong, a senior journalist of The Straits Times of Singapore and British National (Overseas), was detained by the Chinese government for alleged espionage by providing state secrets to Taiwan. Until Ching's release in February 2008, the British government refused to provide consular protection to him, despite petitions by civil rights groups to the British Foreign Office. The Foreign Office explained that they could provide assistance to Ching, but they simply could not intervene in the judicial proceedings of other countries.[18]

Republic of China (Taiwan)[edit]

The Republic of China recognises only British citizens but not British Nationals (Overseas). BN(O)s who are ethnically Chinese are treated as permanent residents of Hong Kong.[19]

United Kingdom[edit]

British National (Overseas)s are subject to immigration controls and do not have the automatic right to live or work in the UK.[20] From 6 April 2015, all British Nationals (Overseas) coming to the UK for longer than six months will be required to pay a ‘health surcharge’ in order to access NHS benefits offered to permanent UK residents.[21]

The status of BN(O) was specially created for British Dependent Territories Citizens of Hong Kong in 1985. Fearing a massive influx of immigrants from former British colonies, the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher refused to grant the right of abode in the United Kingdom to holders of the BN(O) passport. The only exception is that when a British National (Overseas), who was born before 1983 and has been a British citizen up to the same year, could renounce their British citizenship without losing right of abode in the UK.

European Union[edit]

Under the European Union directive of 1932/2006 (December 2006),[22] British Nationals (Overseas) were added to Annex II of Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001[23] as "British citizens who are not nationals of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the purposes of community law". The European Union, unlike the United Kingdom, does not make distinction in legal definitions between "citizen" and "national" (both words are interchangeable).


  • The creation of a new class of British nationality (with fewer privileges) was met with criticism from many Hong Kong residents who felt that British citizenship would have been more appropriate in light of the "moral debt" owed to them by the UK.[24][25] Some British politicians[26] and magazines[27] also criticized the creation of BN(O) status.

See also[edit]

Travel documents

Nationality (law)



  1. ^ [1], Written Answers, House of Lords (4 November 2008)
  2. ^
  3. ^ "United Kingdom Memorandum", Sino-British Joint Declaration, 1984.
  4. ^ UK Border Agency: Chapter 50: British Nationals (Overseas) - Hong Kong Act 1985 & Hong Kong (British Nationality) Order 1986 - general information
  5. ^ Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009
  6. ^ Eligibility to the British National (Overseas) status
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ "Connection to Hong Kong" refers to Hongkongers who gained British Dependent Territories Citizen status by birth, by naturalization, by adoption or by descent.
  9. ^ From 1 July 1987 to 31 December 1989, the Hong Kong government had issued a total of 731,600 passports, in which 85% or 630,700 of them were British Dependent Territories Citizen passports. In contrast, only 100,916 of British National (Overseas) passports were issued[citation needed].
  10. ^ Second Schedule to the Hong Kong (British Nationality) (Amendment) Order 1993
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Representation of the People Act 1983, Section 4
  15. ^ Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) of the Points Based System Policy Guidance
  16. ^ In light of the Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China and the decision made in the 19th session of the 8th Standing Committee of the National People's Congress
  17. ^ Explanations of some questions by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress concerning the implementation of the Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, The Nineteenth Session of the Standing Committee of the Eighth National People's Congress, 15 May 1996.
  18. ^ "Ching Cheong Under House-Arrest in China and Allowed to Contact Family", The Sun, 6 June 2005. (in Chinese)
  19. ^ "Entry requirements" Taiwan, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, retrieved in 2008.
  20. ^ "Types of British nationality: 6. British national (overseas)". Retrieved 2015-02-10. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ [3]
  23. ^ [4]
  24. ^ For example, the legislative councilor Dr Henrietta Ip criticized the idea of British National (Overseas) and again urged the UK Parliament, to grant full British citizenship to Hong Kong's British nationals in the council meeting held on 5 July 1989, saying that "we were born and live under British rule on British land.... It is therefore... our right to ask that you should give us back a place of abode so that we can continue to live under British rule on British land if we so wish.... I represent most of all those who live here to firmly request and demand you to grant us the right to full British citizenship so that we can, if we so wish, live in the United Kingdom, our Motherland.... In fact, your resistance to granting us full citizenship and the right of abode in the United Kingdom reflects your doubt about the Joint Declaration. Yet the more you lack confidence in it, the stronger is the reason why you should grant us full citizenship to protect us from communist rule... I say to you that the right of abode in the United Kingdom is the best and the only definitive guarantee.... With your failure to give us such a guarantee, reluctant as I may, I must advise the people of Hong Kong, and urgently now, each to seek for themselves a home of last resort even if they have to leave to do so. I do so because, as a legislator, my duty is with the people first and the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong second, although the two are so interdependent on each other...."
  25. ^ The legislation is sometimes compared with Macau, a former colony of Portugal, where many residents of Chinese descent were granted right of abode in Portugal when Macau was still under colonial rule. They were not deprived of their right of abode after the transfer of sovereignty of Macau in 1999, their Portuguese passports and citizenship are valid and inheritable, and it turned out that many of them still choose to stay in Macau.
  26. ^ Then Shadow Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said in a letter to the then Home Secretary Michael Howard dated 30 January 1997 that a claim that British National (Overseas) status amounts to British nationality "is pure sophistry"."Labour call for British citizenship for Hong Kong ethnic asians", PR Newswire Europe Ltd., 1997.
  27. ^ The Economist also wrote critically in an article published on 3 July 1997 that "the failure to offer citizenship to most of Hong Kong’s residents was shameful", and "it was the height of cynicism to hand 6m people over to a regime of proven brutality without allowing them any means to move elsewhere." The article commented that the real reason that the new Labour government still refused to give full British citizenship to other British Dependent Territories Citizens in around 1997 - because the United Kingdom was waiting until Hong Kong had been disposed of - "would be seen as highly cynical", as Baroness Symons, a Foreign Office minister, has conceded. "Britain’s colonial obligations", The Economist, 3 July 1997.
  28. ^ for example, Ann Dummett, an expert in this area, criticised that "There is no indication at all in our nationality law of ethnic origin being a criterion. But the purpose of the law since 1981, and the manner in which it is implemented, make sure that ethnic origin is in fact and in practice a deciding factor." [5], Letter to Franco FRATTINI, Standing committee of experts on international immigration, refugee and criminal law. Date: 25 September 2006. Ms Dummett also said that the 1981 Nationality Act in effect gave full British citizenship to a group of whom at least 96% are white people, and the other, less favourable forms of British nationality to groups who are at least 98% non-whiteLack of basic human rights in the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill, BritishHongKong
  29. ^ In March 1996, there was a submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination of United Nations. The committee criticised the arrangements of the BN(O) nationality under "Principal subjects of concern": The Government's statement that South Asian residents of Hong Kong are granted some form of British nationality, whether that of a British National Overseas (BNO) or a British Overseas Citizen (BOC), so that no resident of Hong Kong would be left stateless following the transfer of sovereignty is noted with interest. It is, however, a matter of concern that such status does not grant the bearer the right of abode in the United Kingdom and contrasts with the full citizenship status conferred upon a predominantly white population living in another dependent territory. It is noted that most of the persons holding BNO or BOC status are Asians and that judgements on applications for citizenship appear to vary according to the country of origin, which leads to the assumption that this practice reveals elements of racial discrimination. Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination : United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 28/03/96.


Legal documents[edit]

Other materials[edit]

External links[edit]