A new visa system, offering millions of Hong Kong residents a route to British citizenship, will go into effect later on Sunday when the city’s former colonial ruler opens his doors to those looking to escape China’s crackdown on dissent.
Starting Sunday afternoon, anyone with a British National (Overseas) passport and their loved ones will be able to apply for a visa online to live and work in the UK. After five years they can then apply for citizenship.
The immigration program is in response to Beijing’s decision last year to impose a comprehensive national security law on Hong Kong to eradicate large and often violent protests against democracy.
Britain has accused China of breaking its promise, prior to the surrender of Hong Kong in 1997, that the financial center would retain vital freedoms and autonomy for 50 years. London argued it had a moral duty to protect its former colonialists.
“We recognized our deep connection between history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong and stood up for freedom and autonomy,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the program this week.
China reacted angrily to the visa offer.
It was announced on Friday that BN (O) passports will no longer be recognized as a legitimate travel document or ID.
The move was largely symbolic as Hong Kong residents tend to use their own passports or IDs to get out of the city.
Beijing, however, agreed to take “further action” and feared the authorities might try to prevent Hong Kongers from leaving for the UK.
– Applications are increasing –
It’s not clear how many Hong Kongers will take up the offer, especially as the coronavirus restricts global flights and sinks much of the world, including the UK, into painful economic calamity.
However, a BN (O) passport is available to a large number of people – around 70 percent of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents.
Applications for BN (O) passports have increased by more than 300 percent since the introduction of the national security law in July last year. In mid-January, 733,000 owners were registered.
Britain predicts up to 154,000 Hong Kong residents could arrive next year and up to 322,000 in five years, bringing in an estimated “net profit” of up to $ 4 billion.
The BN (O) passport is a legacy of Hong Kong’s return to authoritarian China.
At the time, many Hong Kong residents wanted Britain to grant them full citizenship, but China opposed the move.
The BN (O) was a compromise that gave Hong Kong residents born before 1997 the right to stay in the UK for six months at a time, but with no labor or settlement rights.
Now it’s one of the few ways out for Hong Kongers hoping to start a new life overseas as authorities carry out mass arrests of democracy supporters in an attempt to rid the troubled city of dissenting views.
– ‘A lifeboat’ –
Stella, a former marketer, plans to move to the UK immediately with her husband and three year old son.
“The national security law of 2020 gave us one final kick because the provisions basically criminalize freedom of expression,” she told AFP, asking that only her first name be used.
Under the visa system, those wishing to move must show that they have sufficient means to support themselves and their loved ones for at least six months.
Hong Kong residents who are already in the UK and helping others with relocation say many of the early applicants are educated middle-class people, often with young families with enough cash to fund their move.
“Most of the people we spoke to are families with children of elementary or kindergarten age,” Nic, an activist with Lion Rock Hill UK group, told AFP, asking for anonymity.
Some Hong Kong residents were leaving the city before the new program took effect.
Earlier this week, the UK announced that around 7,000 people had moved under a separate Leave Outside the Rules (LOTR) system in the past six months. You can also apply for a passport to citizenship visa.
“The BNO is definitely a lifeboat for Hong Kongers,” Mike, a medical scientist who recently moved to Manchester with his family, told AFP.
He said many Hong Kong residents feared China might prevent residents from leaving the territory.
“So it’s better to go as soon as possible,” he added.
(This story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)