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Hong Kong Citizens to be Welcomed to the UK

Martha Davies reports as the British government makes it easier for Hong Kong residents to relocate to Britain amid tightening security restrictions in the former colony.

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Huge numbers of Hong Kong citizens are expected to move to the UK in the wake of numerous threats to free speech in the country, and with the help of a new visa scheme, they will be assisted in accessing jobs, housing and schools, communities secretary Robert Jenrick has stated.

The UK’s new British National Overseas (BNO) passport scheme gives citizens of Hong Kong the right to live in the UK for five years and apply for permanent residency thereafter. Launched on 31 January, the scheme is backed by £43m of funding that will help new residents settle in the UK. 



The New Scheme

A Welcome Pack put together by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government outlines resources to help BNO visa holders access employment, housing, education and healthcare in the UK. Twelve “virtual welcome hubs” will also be set up to assist in these matters. Schools will be provided with teaching material explaining the UK’s former colonial links with Hong Kong.

The scheme was formulated in response to an alarming new security law passed by the Chinese government. The law restricts the autonomy of Hong Kong citizens and severely limits their right to protest by making it much easier for demonstrators to be punished in line with laws in the Republic of China rather than Hong Kong.

Ratified in June 2020, the law criminalises acts of secession, subversion, collusion and terrorism. Anyone found guilty of such acts may receive a maximum sentence of life in prison. The UK has expressed its concern over the impact this will have on the freedoms of Hong Kong citizens, and the changes to the BNO visa reflect the severity of the political situation in the territory as a result of the new law.

In response to the UK amending the BNO visa, the Chinese government has stated that the BNO passport will no longer be seen as a valid travel document. They argue that the security law is required in the territory to tackle growing conflict between citizens and the police. 

A Reduction in Rights

A treaty signed in 1984 decreed that Hong Kong would be handed back to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British colonial rule. BNO status itself was originally created for Hong Kong residents by Britain in 1987.

The principle of ‘one country, two systems’ established once British ownership ended supposedly ensured that Hong Kong would still have extensive autonomy from mainland China in many matters, excluding foreign and defence affairs. This means that Hong Kong has separate borders and its own legal system. It also means, crucially, that rights including freedom of speech, assembly and the press are meant to protected.

However, many citizens and rights groups have expressed anxieties in recent years that these freedoms are being threatened, and that China is interfering with Hong Kong’s politics. The new national security bill certainly appears to provide evidence for this claim.



Looking to the Future 

As the Chinese government attempts to tighten its control of Hong Kong, more citizens are choosing to start a new life in the UK. An estimated 27,000 applications have been made for the BNO visa, and the government predicts that 322,000 people are likely to claim it in the next five years.

With these Hong Kong citizens settling in Britain, it is vital that the government provides them with the assistance promised by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, facilitating their entry into the school system and the housing market, and ensuring that institutions like schools themselves are supported. 


 

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