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Hong Kong Watch: Young adults with BNO visas face huge barriers and high fees accessing universities in UK


British National (Overseas) visa holders ineligible for home fee status and pay international tuition fees

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The UK-based charity Hong Kong Watch published a brief report last week highlighting the barriers faced by British National (Overseas) visa holders from Hong Kong when accessing higher education in the UK.

VisaImage credit: UK GovernmentYou can read the 8-page report here.

It notes that people from Hong Kong with BNO visas are forced to pay international tuition fees as they are not eligible for home fee status at UK universities. Home fee status provides access to capped university fees and student loans for UK students.

In order to qualify for home fee status, students must have settled status in the UK and that requires five years under the BNO visa scheme. A policy change last year in Scotland, however, allows BNO visa holders to access free tuition fees at Scottish higher education institutions after three years residency in Scotland.

As people from Hong Kong were British subjects holding British Dependent Territories citizenship (BDTC) prior to the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, Hong Kong Watch says Hong Kongers should not be considered and treated as just another group of international students.

The report notes: "In other areas of former and current British overseas territories, BDTC became British Overseas Territories citizenship (BOTC) in 2002, and almost all BOTC holders became British citizens on 21 May 2002, with new BOTCs after May 2002 being able to register as British citizens if certain conditions are met. Residents from almost all British overseas territories … have been eligible for 'home fee' status at UK universities since 2007, with the change brought in by the Education (Fees and Awards) and the Education (Qualifying Courses and Persons) Regulations 2007."

In contrast, young adults with BNO visas face huge barriers in accessing higher education due to the lack of home fee status, holding back their potential to prosper in the UK.

Hong Kong Watch explained: "The cost of the visa is already a high hurdle to jump as one must pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (£3,120) and have proof of funds to support oneself for six months in the UK (housing costs plus £2,000). To successfully apply for the visa, one will need around £8,000 in their bank account. This is very difficult for many people to show, before the costs of international tuition fees are even brought into the equation. Annual tuition fees for undergraduate courses for international students at UK universities vary widely, but average at around £25,000 for Russell Group universities. This is compared to the £9,250 cap – and access to student loans – that 'home fee' status bestows."

A number of case studies in the report outline the real-world impact of the problem. An event in Westminster to launch the report last week also heard testimony from Hong Kongers affected by expensive university fees in the UK. Hong Kong Watch highlighted: "Amy, a BNO from the Midlands, spoke movingly about how high international fees for medical degrees had affected her daughter, an excellent student with 97th percentile grades on the UCAT admissions test. In powerful testimony she talked honestly about the feelings of shame experienced by parents who cannot afford, despite their best efforts, to support their children in achieving their academic and career dreams."

Hong Kong Watch is calling on the Government to either implement the same policy as in Scotland and require three years of residence instead of five for access to home fee status or else to offer BNO visa holders student finance options if they have to pay international tuition fees.

Lord Alton of Liverpool, a patron of Hong Kong Watch, said: "Enabling young Hong Kongers to go to university is not only the right and moral thing to do, it is a sensible investment in the future. I commend our speakers for coming here today and bravely speaking out about the difficulties they face trying to fund an education for themselves or their children. I urge the UK Government to follow the Scottish government's lead and introduce Home Fees status for BNOs after three years of residency."