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The British Government Offers an Immigration Lifeline to Hong Kong Residents

Yesterday, on 1st July 2020, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered the opportunity for residents of Hong Kong with British National Overseas (‘BNO’) status to settle in the UK and ultimately become citizens.

This was in response to the National Security Law introduced in China, which is seen to violate the rights of Hong Kong residents and is a direct breach of the terms agreed when Great Britain ‘handed back’ Hong Kong to China.  This was the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ promise to grant residents of Hong Kong key liberties, as well as judicial and legislative autonomy, until at least 2047.

This meant that while becoming part of one country with China, Hong Kong would enjoy “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs” for 50 years. As a result, Hong Kong has its own legal system and borders, and rights including freedom of assembly, free speech and freedom of the press are protected.

What is the National Security Law?

Pro-democracy protests have been ongoing in Hong Kong for over a year, with a fear that Beijing is overreaching with its role in HK governance and starting to breach the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ promise.

China went on to introduce the National Security Law on Tuesday 30th June 2020, without any input from Hong Kong authorities. The law gives Beijing broad powers to crack down on a variety of political crimes, including separatism and collusion and it is feared that it will curtail the civil liberties of the residents of Hong Kong. Many fear a reign of terror and Hong Kong becoming a secret police state.

Many Hong Kong residents will be looking to resettle elsewhere, and this new offer from the British Prime Minister opens up a new avenue.

What are the British settlement requirements?

BNO Passport holders in Hong Kong were granted special status in the 1980s but currently have restricted rights and are only entitled to visa-free access to the UK for six months.

Under the government’s new plans, all British Overseas Nationals in Hong Kong and their dependants will be given right to remain in the UK, including the right to work and study, for five years. At this point, they will be able to apply for settled status, and after a further year, seek citizenship.

Process

Travel to the UK subject to standard immigration checks

Right to work and study in the UK for 5 years

Apply for settled status

After a further year, apply for citizenship

What remains unanswered

There are currently 350,000 BNO passport holders, and about three million Hong Kong residents are eligible for BNO passports. These figures exclude dependants born after 1997 and so the number of total eligible applicants could be well over 3 million.

Many questions remain unanswered including,

  • Will the UK be ready to take in so many Hong Kong residents?
  • Will there be enough jobs?
  • Will BNO passport holders have recourse to public funds?
  • Will they be covered by the NHS?

It is also still unclear if the applications made by BNO passport holders will carry any costs or if there will be any other special conditions attached to their stay. 

China has also since retaliated and stated that it firmly opposes the British offer to Hong Kong residents and has urged Britain to stop “interfering”. We will have to wait and see how this plays out and the UK government will reveal more information in due course and we will keep readers up to date.

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