Hong Kong students living in the UK thanks to the new British Nationals (Overseas) (BN(O)) visa scheme are facing up to £22,831 a year more in university fees than their British counterparts, due to having to pay international student charges, according to new research from the Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers. .
In a joint letter, published today in the Times, MPs and peers from across political divides have joined civic society and higher education voices to urge the government to stop penalising Hong Kongers by granting home fee status to BN(O) visa holders as soon as they arrive in the UK.
BN(O) students living in the UK are also ineligible for student loans that could help cover these excessively high costs. This is despite the fact that Hong Kongers coming to the UK under the BN(O) scheme are largely moving to the UK permanently and intend to make new lives here.
Government figures released last week reveal that 113,742 Hong Kongers have been granted visas to the UK through the new British Nationals (Overseas) (BN(O)) scheme since it opened on 31 January 2021 – one of the most significant sources of new arrivals to the UK.
Changing the rules to ensure BNO(O) students would be given home fee status would be in line with charges faced by domestic students and those with refugee status meaning, for instance, that they will not be charged more than £9,250 a year as a university undergraduate. Currently Hong Kong BN(O)s must be a resident in the UK for five years before they qualify. The Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers is also calling for newly arrived Hong Kongers to be eligible for student support such as loans.
Audrey is a sixth form student in the South-West who came to the UK from Hong Kong. She said:
“Along with dealing with the cultural differences and adaptation in moving to and settling in the UK, as a current sixth form student studying in the UK under my parents BN(O), I have concerns over how our non-eligibility for local university fees and student loans will affect my opportunities in advancing in my education for the future. Although I appreciate that my education is currently free in A-levels, our non-eligibility for university funding evokes worry over my family’s financial ability to support me upon completion of school, and I fear how this may have influence over my freedom in choices and options regarding placement and level of study.
“While my parents are working hard and have been paying UK tax, we are not eligible for local university fees. Therefore, if the British government are able to provide us with financial assistance on this matter, instead of having to spend the majority of our finances on education, we would be able to better use our savings in other places. For example, such added support in my advancement of education could increase our financial stability to allow our wishes of settling down here in the UK and buying a home to be possible.
“We are here to do our best, and ask for the opportunity to receive equal treatment and support from the UK government, which would hopefully assist both us and hundreds of families who are also in similar situations prior to permanent settlement.”
The government has already agreed to grant home fee status to Ukrainian refugees who qualify to stay in the UK under one of the Home Office schemes. They will also not need to have been a resident for a set number of years to access student financial support.
Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, said:
“Britain has done the right thing in welcoming new arrivals from Hong Kong. The families arriving are here to stay and want to build new lives and careers in Britain. Like all of us, they want the best for their kids.
“We shouldn’t be penalising young people from Hong Kong with high international fees, which will put university out of reach for many. This is their home now and they should be treated as home students.”
The BN(O) visa scheme, which allows Hong Kongers to live, work and study in the UK, will be expanded from October 2022 to include adults born after 1997 with at least one parent who is BN(O) – meaning more 18–24-year-olds could settle in the UK at an age when they are more likely to want to study at university.
Recent research from Ipsos suggests strong public support for the BN(O) scheme from nearly three quarters (73%) of people in Britain, with most citing their support because it is “the morally right thing to do”. In addition, according to new ICM research for the Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers and think tank British Future, half (50%) of the GB adult population would be willing to take part in welcoming activities for refugees and other new arrivals. The research also found that nearly 13 million people (25% of GB adults) say they would be interested in helping someone improve their English, through a conversation club or Zoom conversations.
The text of the joint letter is as follows:
The new British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) visa allowing Hong Kongers to live and work in the UK has been a great success, broadly welcomed across the civic and political spectrum.
Those coming to Britain include many families, with parents keen to see their children educated in a democratic society, and young people keen to succeed in Britain. However, the current higher education rules place an unnecessary impediment to educational opportunity, since BN(O) visa holders will not be eligible for home fees status until they have lived in the UK for five years, and so would face much higher university fees, while being ineligible for student loans.
The government has rightly agreed that young people arriving under the Ukraine visa schemes should have home student status, matching the exceptions given to those with refugee status. We believe that extending exceptional status in a similar way is the right principle for those coming to Britain under the BN(O) visa too.
We call on the UK government, and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to grant Home Student status to BN(O) visa holders resident in the UK, and hope the higher education community will speak up for this being the right thing to do.
Robert Buckland MP (Conservative); Steve Baker MP (Conservative); Nus Ghani MP (Conservative); Damian Green MP (Conservative); Paul Blomfield MP (Labour); Liam Byrne MP (Labour); Rupa Huq MP (Labour); Lord Nat Wei; Lord Shinkwin, Vice-Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong; Lord Alton of Liverpool, Vice Chair, APPG on Hong Kong; Lord Hunt of Kings Heath PC OBE, Vice Chair, APPG on Hong Kong; Daniel Korski, Chair, Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers; Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future; Leighton Andrews, Professor of Public Leadership, Cardiff Business School; Christina Boswell, Professor of Politics and Dean of Research for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Edinburgh; Simon Cheng, Hong Kongers in Britain; Emily Crowley, CEO, Student Action for Refugees; Iain Dale, broadcaster and author; Dr Rakib Ehsan, social integration researcher;;Dr Robert Ford, Professor of Politics, University of Manchester; Sam Freedman, Senior Fellow, Institute for Government; William Gomes, Director, The William Gomes Podcast; Andrew Harrop, Fabian Society; Neil Jameson, Director, UK Welcomes Hong Kongers; Dr Krish Kandiah, HKUK and Founder, Sanctuary Foundation; Ivan Ko, CEO, Victoria Harbor Group; Karen Kwong, CEO and Founder, Ren Organisational Consulting Ltd; Samuel Lai, CEO, At Home Foundation; Jabez Lam, Hackney Chinese Community Services; Sonny Leong CBE, Vice Chair, East & South East Asians for Labour and CEO, Civil Service College; Polly Mackenzie, CEO, Demos; Anand Menon, Director, UK in a Changing Europe; Chaplin Mui, Hong Kong Aid; Michael Natzler, higher education researcher; Jackson Ng, Barrister and Councillor, Beaconsfield Buckinghamshire Council; Professor David Owen, University of Southampton; Johnny Patterson, Policy Director, Hong Kong Watch; Professor Alison Phipps, Unesco Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages; and the Arts, University of Glasgow; Jonathan Portes, Professor of Economics and Public Policy, King’s College London; James Richardson,Director of Global Development & Partnerships, Sheffield Hallam University; Lauren Roberts, UNESCO RILA Secretariat Coordinator, University of Glasgow; Benedict Rogers, Chief Executive, Hong Kong Watch; Ryan Shorthouse, Founder and Chief Executive, Bright Blue; Professor Marc Stears, Director, UCL Policy Lab; Patrick Sturgis, Professor of Quantitative Social Science, London School of Economics; Maryam Taher, coordinator of the Universities of Sanctuary initiative, City of Sanctuary UK; Luke Tryl, UK Director, More in Common.
(Photo of Cambridge by Chris Boland)