Residents in Hong Kong are considering their options after China proposed controversial new security laws in the city. The UK property market is already seeing a surge of potential buyers as a result.
Earlier this month, China revealed that it could bring in new national security laws for Hong Kong residents. Sparked partly by the recent unrest in the city thanks to China’s proposed extradition rule changes, the latest announcement has provoked more unease among those living in the territory.
In response to China’s plans, the UK has pledged to change its immigration rules for Hong Kong dwellers. This would effectively provide a “path to citizenship” for British National Overseas (BNO) residents there. Prime Minister Boris Johnson says BNO passport-holders would be able to come to the UK for 12 months without a visa. They could also receive further immigration rights, including the right to work in the UK.
Surge in passport applications
As a result of the proposals from China, Hong Kong has seen a surge in residents renewing BNO passports. Data shows that renewal applications had already increased in H2 of 2019, partly thanks to the unrest. It now seems a growing number of residents could seek a new place to reside if the law goes ahead.
One immigration consultancy has seen a significant spike in applications in the past week alone. Swing Wong, a director the Midland immigration consultancy, said: “Last week, the number of enquiries surged to about 100 a day.” This is an increase from around 50 per day earlier this year.
The BNO passport was issued to people in Hong Kong by the UK before the territory was handed over to China. It is currently held by around 300,000 people. The British Consulate General in Hong Kong says more than two and a half million people are eligible to apply.
While thousands of Hong Kong residents already own property in the UK, the changes could see this number rise. If the new immigration rules come in, Hong Kong citizens could come to the UK for up to 12 months. After this point, they could extend their stay and potentially apply for citizenship.
What does this mean for UK property?
UK real estate as a standalone asset is viewed as a very safe place to invest and park funds. This is coupled with a largely positive forecast for sales, and strong sales and rental activity following the relaxation of lockdown measures.
The broad international investment community is also seeing the current currency position and relative safety in the market as good conditions to invest. The latest stamp duty changes announced by the UK government last year have also caused a raft of extra activity in the sector. All these factors are creating an increasingly strong argument for buyers looking to enter the UK market.
The scale of additional interest in UK property
At BuyAssociation, we are directly seeing a spike in enquiries from Hong Kong. These are entering our business via relocation agents, property agents and direct to the business through increased online searches.
The majority of interest is for London, Manchester and Birmingham. Furthermore, most parties are looking at this as an investment with scope to live.
Beyond the property itself, it is important that clients take a moment to get professional support on how they buy their property. This should ensure they get access to the best options for them. They must also take into account their potential BNO status, in terms of acquisition, income and exit.
Sam Hadfield, managing director at BuyAssociation, said: “All buyers are different, which is something we always take into account. How you buy, as an individual or a company, can affect your finance options, taxable income and many other factors. We are currently working with buyers to assist with the right structure for them.”
“From setting up UK companies to holding stock, we can help investors explore all their options. We are also assisting buyers in finding a mortgage, ensuring they are educated on costs and speaking with the right tax partners.”