Why does loneliness matter to the mental health of British National (Overseas) visa holders? Hub member Alvin Hui, PhD student at The University of Bristol, introduces his research study which will investigate the association between various social determinants and the mental health status of BN(O) visa holders.
What is the British National (Overseas) Visa?
On 31 January 2021, the UK government launched the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) Visa [BN(O) Visa], a newly established immigration pathway for Hong Kongers who hold a British National (Overseas) status and their immediate family members. This visa was introduced in response to the introduction of the new national security law in Hong Kong, which the UK government views as a violation of the agreements made between China and the UK during the handover of Hong Kong.
Under this immigration pathway, BN(O) visa holders and their dependent family members can relocate to and reside in the UK. They will have the right to work and study in the UK (without being classified as home students for tuition fee purposes); nevertheless, they will not have access to any public funds while holding the BN(O) visa. After five years, they may apply for permanent settlement and, ultimately, British citizenship (subject to applicable eligibility criteria).
As of the end of December 2022, a total of 153,708 BN(O) visas were granted, according to statistics from the Home Office. It is estimated that between 257,000 and 322,000 BNO status holders, including dependants, will be expected to arrive in the UK under this visa route over the first five years of the policy.
Why does loneliness matter to the mental health of BN(O) visa holders?
One online survey (UK Welcomes Refugees: Building Communities Together) suggests that 36.7% of the respondents, who are BN(O) visa holders living in the UK in the past two years, felt lonely some of the time, and 7.3% of them felt lonely often / always. However, it is unclear of the association between loneliness and the mental health of BN(O) visa holders, as well as their mental health status at large.
Another online survey (Hong Kongers in Britain) on the mental health situation for recent Hong Kong arrivals living in Britain shows that 18.9% and 25.8% of the respondents have clinically relevant symptoms of depression and anxiety respectively, warranting further attention to the mental health of BN(O) visa holders.
Given that there are numerous research studies suggesting an association between loneliness and one’s adverse mental health outcomes, and that people from ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK are more likely to experience loneliness, further research is needed to understand the level of loneliness experienced by this new-coming immigration group in the UK, their mental health status, and the potential linkage between one’s level of loneliness and the person’s mental health outcome.
A mixed-method study
My research study, which is aimed to be conducted next year, adopts a set of multidimensional measurements to investigate the association between various social determinants (i.e. how the conditions in which people live and work influence their health outcomes) and the mental health status of BN(O) visa holders.
By incorporating both questionnaires and in-depth interviews, my study aims to provide a holistic understanding of this phenomenon. Given that BN(O) Visa Holders are a sizeable immigrant group, and most of them are committed to staying in the UK indefinitely, understanding the potential disproportionate mental health impacts they may experience in the UK are vital.
This study could, therefore, provide evidence that will assist in quantifying the phenomena, thus informing the design of effective policies and intervention strategies to address the mental health needs of BN(O) visa holders.
About the author
Alvin Hui is a PhD candidate at University of Bristol. His ongoing PhD research looks into the mental health status of British National (Overseas) Visa Holder, an incoming migration group in the UK.
Follow Alvin on Twitter @alvinhuiyk for all the latest news and updates on the project.