Hong Kong BN(O) and Ukraine Humanitarian Visa Strategies Compared

Ukraine, United Kingdom
#refugee #asylum

The UK's stance on asylum and humanitarian rights has seen substantial adjustments in recent years. A significant change has been the creation of special humanitarian visa programmes for Ukraine and Hong Kong citizens. 

'Safe and legal (humanitarian) protections' in the UK include several programmes, such as forced relocation and community sponsorship. Before the launch of the programmes in Hong Kong and the Ukraine, the number of recipients historically remained low. 

More than 533,000 people have profited from these safeguards since 2015. Notably, over 324,000 recipients have benefited from the Hong Kong and Ukraine schemes, a notable change from previous years.

The Hong Kong BN(O) Visa Scheme

The Hong Kong BN(O) Visa was introduced on January 31, 2021, and it provides a humanitarian exit route for British nationals with qualifying BN(O) status who wish to depart Hong Kong. 

In contrast to other humanitarian safeguards, applicants need to show that they can support themselves financially for six months in the UK and pay for their visas. They are granted the freedom to reside, work, and study in the UK, but they have restricted access to welfare benefits. 

This programme differs from others in that, unlike traditional humanitarian aid programmes, beneficiaries must pay for the safeguards they receive from the British government. It is comparable to ancestry visas.

The Ukraine Humanitarian Visa Schemes

A Ukrainian Refugee in the UK - Hong Kong and Ukraine Humanitaria Visas

The UK launched several visa initiatives in reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, including Homes for Ukraine, the Ukraine Family Scheme, and the Ukraine Extension Scheme. For those with UK family ties or sponsorship, these programmes provide instant employment rights, temporary protections, and access to specific welfare benefits. 

However, recipients of these programmes lack a path to permanent residency, in contrast to those with refugee status. The beneficiaries are faced with ambiguity regarding their rights and future in the UK because of the three-year validity period.

Contrasting Features and Implications

The rights and eligibility of beneficiaries are important factors to consider when making comparisons. The Ukraine programmes offer instant employment rights and access to welfare benefits, but they are temporary and do not offer a path to long-term settlement, in contrast to the Hong Kong BN(O) scheme, which restricts access to welfare support and requires financial self-sufficiency. 

Furthermore, these programmes' overt nationality-based discrimination violates the 1951 Refugee Convention's principles and presents difficulties for recipients in their day-to-day lives.

Essentially, although the BN(O) programme in Hong Kong and the Ukraine visa programme provide some safety, they do not offer complete protections similar to those included in the asylum system in the United Kingdom. 

The shift in the government's policies towards ad hoc humanitarian protections should be seen as an addition to, not a replacement for, the Refugee Convention's asylum provisions.


Is it possible for holders of a Hong Kong BN(O) visa to apply for UK permanent residency?

There isn't currently a straightforward path for holders of a Hong Kong BN(O) visa to get permanent residence in the UK. Eligibility standards and immigration laws, however, are subject to change.

Are those who are granted visas for Ukraine eligible to use UK public health services?

Like other UK citizens, recipients of the Ukraine visa programmes typically have access to public healthcare systems. However, depending on unique circumstances and immigration status, specific eligibility and coverage may differ.


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