The BNO British National (Overseas) visa and UK Construction Jobs 1 Year On

Posted by Steve Thomas , Construction Recruitment Director, UK & Canada on Tuesday, January 25, 2022

In April 2021, I wrote a detailed and frequently read article about the new BNO British National (Overseas) visa scheme for Hong Kong people that launched in January 2021.This BNO scheme for eligible Hong Kong people to come and live and work in the UK has been running for a year now. 

But how well has the BNO scheme worked for Hong Kong people wanting to come to the UK, and how well have those that have come settled in?  How well has the BNO scheme worked for employers in the UK experiencing skill shortages in the construction industry?  Have people taken advantage of the opportunity to come and has everyone that wants to come been able to do so? Do Hong Kong people have other choices of location to consider migrating to, in order to live and work internationally?

How well has the BNO scheme worked for Hong Kong people wanting to come to the UK?  How well have BNO candidates from Hong Kong settled in?

The recruitment consultants at Maxim Recruitment can best answer this question in relation to the BNO job seekers arriving from Hong Kong for whom we have found jobs.  At Maxim, we work across several construction industry sectors including civil engineering, building contracting, refurbishment and fit out as well as quantity surveying, cost consulting and project management.  On a BNO visa administration level, the process appears to have been managed very well – we have not heard of any delays with the processing and confirmation of visas. One article in the Daily Telegraph regards the BNO scheme that (according to some estimates) offers up to 5.4 million Hong Kong people UK residency and the pathway to citizenship to have been a great success on all levels. 

One key advantage is that this BNO visa process allows the approval of the visa before arrival in the UK and isn’t subject to applicants already having a valid job offer.  Once the visa is approved, it is much easier for construction recruitment consultants like Maxim Recruitment, to find employers willing to interview and offer jobs to candidates from Hong Kong – as they already know that they can legally be employed without further delay or bureaucracy if they are suitable for the construction job vacancy they are applying for.  This also allows BNO visa holders to choose whether to attend construction job interviews remotely from Hong Kong, or after a confidence-building discussion with construction recruitment service providers like Maxim, to make definite travel plans and to arrive in the UK confident that they will soon secure a construction or engineering job once they are available to meet employers face to face and are in country ready to get started.

As with any new job, new construction job employees that have come from Hong Kong will face challenges and there will be a need to accommodate change and to learn new ways of working, living and develop new skills. Overall, it is important to note that Hong Kong candidates have been just as successful in settling into their new construction jobs in the UK as anyone else from anywhere else.  It would be fair to say that some construction skill sets appear to transfer more easily from Hong Kong to the UK. For example, Chartered Quantity Surveyors, qualified claims and construction dispute consultants (both quantum and delay), experienced planners and estimators amongst others have settled very well into new jobs within building contracting, civil engineering contracting and refurbishment and fit out construction work.  Candidates who are more from a Site Manager, Site Agent background have at times struggled to persuade employers that the site experience in Hong Kong they have is adequately relevant to be able to manage people or to be given a job role where they have to make important decisions. 

Experience gained in Hong Kong with international companies or larger corporations that use internationally recognised procedures, procurement methods or forms of contract all help to evidence and demonstrate transferable experience.  At times, in the worst-case scenario it may be necessary to take a more junior role than would be ideal, and to learn new building codes, pricing, costs or build a network of suppliers and then move forward after first working at a more junior level for up to 12-18 months.  Maxim would advise against job hopping though – candidates should join a company they are happy to stay with and build a career path rather than jump between companies as and when other opportunities come available – the UK market is still a small one and reputations can be damaged more easily than they are built.

We have been involved in many examples of finding construction jobs for BNO status applicants where they have succeeded in maintain their careers and seniority at the same level and at time, with particular industry expertise in rail, refurbishment, cost control or planning, have quickly started to advance and progress their construction careers.


How well has the BNO visa scheme for Hong Kongers worked for construction employers in the UK who are experiencing skill shortages? 

As a whole, construction employers in the UK have definitely taken a favourable view of this additional source of qualified candidates; and perhaps for good reason. The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford has reported that:

People considering taking up the new route to settlement in the UK are younger and more educated than those planning to stay behind. 

From the point of view of construction companies and consultancies seeking to fill their construction jobs with well-educated and well-qualified candidates, it has been a great first year for the BNO scheme.  The Maxim Recruitment team have succeeded in making many successful recruitment introductions and successful placement of high calibre Hong Kong construction candidates into quantity surveying, engineering, claims & dispute and other construction jobs in the UK. 

Some construction employers have needed to have the BNO scheme explaining to them, while others need a briefing on the Hong Kong construction industry and its many similarities to the UK.  Other potential UK employers’ benefit from an explanation of the Hong Kong company profile that a candidate has worked for and its size and standing in Hong Kong; this can often draw out many similarities and transferrable skills that the candidate possesses that are in great demand.  If construction employers in the UK are not considering Hong Kong experienced BNO candidates for their construction job vacancies in the UK, they should get in touch with our specialist recruitment consultants immediately as they are missing out on a fantastic source of construction talent.


Have a lot of people taken advantage of the opportunity to come and all who want to come been able to do so? What other options do Hong Kong people have to work or migrate internationally?

It is worth noting the Hong Kong British National Overseas BNO visa scheme as it currently stands, has no end date and no cap on numbers eligible to apply.  The Guardian newspaper reports:

Around 88,000 Hong Kongers have applied for the new visa pathway to the UK in the first nine months since its launch, according to a report by the UK foreign office……The UK has predicted that as many as 330,000 Hong Kongers may resettle in the UK within the first 5 years.

The potential for the continued arrival of qualified construction professionals (and their immediate families) from Hong Kong into a booming UK construction industry is a big positive for the UK construction industry and is a great source of construction talent to bolster an ageing UK workforce struggling to keep up with the appetite to build more houses, offices and rail and civil infrastructure.  Whether similar numbers of skilled construction professionals will continue to arrive from Hong Kong in year two and beyond, we will have to wait and see.   

Some of the political elements of the BNO visa scheme need also to be briefly mentioned.  The Guardian reported that Beijing was to no longer recognise the BNO passport as a valid travel document.  Some politicians and commentators in the UK have argued in The Independent that the BNO scheme should be extended further to include those born after 1997.

The attempt to persuade the UK Home Office appears not to have been successful at the time of writing.  In summary, it would be reasonable to conclude, as with any visa or work permit scheme, that the scope and terms of reference for the BNO visa scheme may change over time.  Therefore, the supply of excellent calibre construction professionals from Hong Kong to the UK should not be taken for granted as being available indefinitely.  The same point applies to those in Hong Kong who are considering a move to the UK using this route – the opportunity to do so may not be available indefinitely using this route.  Maxim Recruitment has been working with construction professionals internationally since 2003 and has had great success in recruiting a variety of skill sets from and into the UK, Hong Kong and Canada ever since.

There is also one other aspect to the availability of Hong Kong construction professionals and the migration of qualified talent to join construction jobs in the UK – other countries around the world are also recognising Hong Kong construction consultancy, engineering and project management skills.

As we outlined in our blog in June 2021, Canada has opened a scheme for Hong Kong SAR passport holders meeting certain criteria to apply for a 3 year Canadian open work permit.  In December 2021, The Migration Observatory reported their findings:

…the UK was the preferred option among BN(O)s in Hong Kong who expressed an interest in leaving the country, with 33% placing it as their top destination, ahead of second-place Taiwan (23%), Australia (15%) and Canada (11%). London was the most common choice of destination city, favoured by 42% of potential movers and well ahead of second-place Manchester (12%).

At Maxim Recruitment, our experience of the migration intentions of Hong Kongers with professional construction experience has been much more evenly balanced between the destinations of the UK with those intending to migrate to Canada. 

This is a timely reminder that the very best construction professionals from Hong Kong (or from anywhere else in the world) often have options regarding where they might want to relocate to – and that the project, role and remuneration offered all need to be internationally competitive to secure suitable construction expertise and experience.  Toronto and Vancouver in Canada are also desirable locations with booming construction economies so London and Manchester will need to remain attractive propositions to secure the best construction job applications and new job starters.

Maxim Recruitment has offices in the UK, Hong Kong and Canada and we are actively involved in recruiting premium construction skills into and between each of these locations and into other countries and continents also.

If you are looking for premium professional construction candidates to fill your live construction jobs, Maxim Recruitment might be the appropriate construction recruitment agency to provide the construction recruitment services you are looking for.  If you are a construction candidate considering your career options and choices of career path within the UK, Hong Kong or Canada, or considering relocating from one location to another, Maxim is the right construction recruitment company for you to get in touch with.

Steve Thomas
Steve Thomas
Construction Recruitment Director, UK & Canada
Maxim Recruitment

Steve is responsible for Maxim Recruitment in the UK. He is based in the Maxim head office in Leicester, Leicestershire and regularly travels to meet employers, job seekers and to attend construction industry networking events all over the UK. With over 20 years' experience in construction and property recruitment he works with a number of repeat clients and engages in search and headhunting assignments for a range of premium UK and international clients.