The British government recently provided more details on the proposal of making immigration to Britain easier for eligible Hongkongers. This benefit will only be applied to those who hold a special British visa — British National Overseas passports. The Chinese foreign ministry soon issued a statement that it would stop recognizing BNO passports and warned the UK to not interfere in the country’s internal affairs.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, pointed out that London had promised not to grant the right of abode to Hong Kong BNO passport holders before the city was transferred to China in 1997.
“The Chinese government has repeatedly made clear its strong stance on this issue, but the British side has insisted on … interfering with Hong Kong affairs and China’s domestic issues. It is only moving a rock to hit its own feet… As the British side broke its own promises, the Chinese government will consider not recognizing the BNO passport as a valid travel document, and reserve the right to impose further measures,” he said, as reported by the South China Morning Post.
However, Zhao’s argument that Britain is breaking its promise by providing citizenship to BNO passport holders does not carry much weight. After all, Beijing also gave a promise to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy at least until 2047. But now, the Chinese government has broken this promise and passed the national security law, thus eroding the democracy and autonomy of Hong Kong.
Since Beijing has broken its promise, Britain is no longer obliged to honor its part of the agreement either. Rather than doom Hongkongers to live under communist rule that will suppress their freedoms, the UK decided to offer a safe abode for these people.
Hongkongers with a BNO passport can benefit from relaxed immigration rules. Such passport holders can come and stay in the UK for a period of 30 months, which can be extended further to an additional 30 months. In essence, a Hongkonger will be staying in the UK for 5 years, after which they can apply for citizenship. During the 5 year period, the BNO holder will be allowed to work and study in the county. However, they will not be able to access public funds like social welfare benefits.
According to the British Consulate General in Hong Kong, there are around 300,000 Hongkongers who presently have a BNO passport while 2.9 million people are eligible for it. The new visa scheme is expected to attract around 1 million Hongkongers into the UK over the next 5 years. The scheme will be available from January next year.
Though many Hongkongers want to flee to the UK to avoid living under the communist regime, not everyone can follow through with the plan due to their existing ties with the city. For instance, a Hongkonger who has worked as a teacher in Hong Kong schools and currently living on a pension might lose the pension if she migrates to London.
The number of Hongkongers seeking asylum in other countries has only grown since the protests began last year. Almost 136 people had sought asylum in Australia as of September this year compared to just 50 applications in 2018. Many Hongkongers are also planning to immigrate to Australia. In fact, the Australian government has been receptive to such immigration and has announced that it will support people fleeing Hong Kong.
In addition to the UK and Australia, other nations that are preferred by Hongkongers for immigration include the U.S., Taiwan, and Canada. The fact that large numbers of Hong Kong citizens desire to exit the place is a big blow to the reputation of the Chinese government. As such, it is no wonder that Beijing is trying to limit the exodus of Hongkongers and threatening nations that are willing to provide a safe haven.