People Inside a Terminal Airport

A new report released today titled "Humanitarian Visas in a Hostile Environment", offers first-hand insights into the experiences of individuals arriving in the UK through the Hong Kong BN(O) and Ukraine visa schemes and shows that ‘significant concerns persist’ around the restrictions faced by visa beneficiaries.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham and Lancaster University, draw on qualitative interviews with 43 Hong Kongers and Ukrainians to offer a comparative analysis of the UK’s suite of ‘safe and legal (humanitarian) routes’. Centring the voices and perspectives of visa holders, the report explores both the experiences of applying for these visas and everyday life in the UK.

The key findings of the report - published three years after the Hong Kong BN(O) visa was introduced on 31st January 2021 - reveal a significant gap between the government's rhetoric surrounding humanitarian visas and the real-world experiences and challenges faced by beneficiaries. The study highlights the interplay of geopolitical factors, historical context, and individual circumstances in shaping the decision-making process of those relocating to the UK under these bespoke provisions.

Prevailing sense of temporariness

Differences in access to rights and entitlements led to distinct challenges for Hong Kongers and Ukrainians. Hong Kongers faced difficulties in accessing suitable housing, limited access to public funds, and issues related to the recognition of their professional qualifications. Ukrainians experienced a prevailing sense of temporariness and uncertainty due to time-limited visas and no route to long-term settlement.

Prolonged unemployment and downward occupational mobility were common challenges for both groups. Hong Kongers faced issues with educational qualifications recognition and obtaining the Certificate of No Criminal Conviction (CNCC), while Ukrainians encountered language barriers.

In the context of the UK's post-Brexit migration regime and increasing restrictions on asylum, the report highlights concerns regarding the temporary nature of protection for Ukrainians and restrictions in access to public services for Hong Kongers

Significant concerns persist with the visa schemes, especially regarding the temporary nature of protection for Ukrainians and the restrictions and costs faced by Hong Kongers.

Professor Nando Sigona

Professor Nando Sigona, director of the Institute for Research into International Migration and Superdiversity at the University of Birmingham and co-author of the report, stated:

"Our findings underscore the need for a closer examination of the implications of these humanitarian visa schemes. The UK government often refers to them to demonstrate its continuing commitment to international protection, but these schemes are no alternative to the asylum system; at best they can be complementary.

"Significant concerns persist with the visa schemes, especially regarding the temporary nature of protection for Ukrainians and the restrictions and costs faced by Hong Kongers."

Professor Michaela Benson, co-author of the report from Lancaster University, added:

“These insights come at a crucial juncture as the UK continues to evolve its policies on humanitarian issues. The report serves as a valuable resource for policymakers, advocates, and the public to better understand the realities faced by those seeking protection through these highly selective visa schemes”.

The report concludes with a call for a more nuanced approach to address the challenges faced by visa holders, particularly in areas such as employment, educational qualifications recognition, and access to housing.