How a British passport offers an escape for Hong Kongers : QuickTake

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As China tightened its control over Hong Kong with a national security law introduced in June 2020, the UK offered some residents of its former colony a potential exit route: a proposal to allow longer stays. longs in Britain and even a pathway to future citizenship. Hong Kong’s strict Covid quarantine regulations added to the pressure to leave. While some 3 million or more people could qualify for the program, so far only a fraction of that total have applied.

It is to give extended rights to Hong Kong residents with unique documents known as British National (Overseas) or BN(O) passports, and those considered eligible. The UK created the passports before returning Hong Kong to China in 1997. They allowed holders to visit the UK without a visa for up to six months, but did not automatically confer the right to live there or live there. work there. Holders were also not eligible to access public funds.

Former UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the House of Commons in July 2020 that a new “tailor-made immigration pathway” would allow those with BN(O) status to come to the UK without the six-month limit. They would be allowed to stay and work in the UK for five years. After this period, they could apply for settlement status and, after a further 12 months, citizenship. Family dependents would also be allowed to enter the UK and there would be no cap on the number allowed to apply. Applications were open from January 2021.

3. What was its success?

The number of applicants to the BN(O) scheme between January and March 2022 jumped 25% from the previous three months, reaching 19,500, according to data from the UK Home Office. The increase came as the omicron variant of the coronavirus tore through the Asian city, killing thousands. Still, overall applications were down 57% from the shorter first quarter of 2021, when 34,300 people rushed to apply after the program started on January 31 that year. Since then, some 123,400 people have applied. By comparison, Hong Kong recorded an exodus of 89,200 residents in the year to the end of June 2021, contributing to a 1.2% decline in its total population to around 7.39 million people. .

For every adult applying to enter the UK for two and a half years, an application fee and a health supplement cost £1,740 ($2,196). This figure nearly doubles to £3,370 for those wishing to stay for five years. In addition, they must prove that they have enough money to support themselves and their families for at least six months. Many people with significant savings and assets are betting the house on their move: of 10 people surveyed by Bloomberg News for an article in March 2022, most sold everything before arriving in the UK, cashing in on the savings ranging from HK$500,000 to HK$5 million. ($63,700 to $637,000).

There were already around 350,000 holders of BN(O) passports before the Security Act was introduced, according to the UK Home Office. However, others born before the July 1, 1997 transfer were eligible, and the Home Office said in 2020 that it estimated there were “approximately 2.9 million BN(O)” in Hong Kong. This represents about 40% of the population. People born after the transfer were not eligible, but the UK government intends to expand the scheme in October to include young people born on or after 1 July 1997 who have at least one parent with BN status ( O). This will allow young Hong Kongers to apply directly.

6. Why is the UK doing this?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said China’s imposition of the national security law was a “clear and serious breach” of the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration that paved the way for Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997. Speaking in the House of Commons in July 2020 after his introduction, he said he had made it clear that if China continued on this path, Britain would introduce a new path for those who have the BN(O) status to enter the UK. In an interview with Sky News the previous month, Raab said the UK was willing to sacrifice a free trade deal with China to protect Hong Kong citizens.

7. What was China’s reaction?

The Chinese Embassy in London said in July 2020 that the UK had previously promised that it “would not confer the right of residence to Chinese citizens in Hong Kong who hold BN(O) passports”. All Chinese compatriots living in Hong Kong are considered Chinese nationals, the embassy said. “If the British side makes unilateral changes to the practice in question, it will violate its own position and commitments as well as international law and basic norms governing international relations.” Two days before the program was launched, China said it would no longer recognize the BN(O) passport as a valid travel document and reserved “the right to take further action.”

8. Why didn’t people in Hong Kong get normal UK passports?

People born in Hong Kong after the 1997 handover, who were both Chinese citizens and permanent residents of Hong Kong, became eligible for the new Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) passports. While then Conservative Prime Minister John Major cited Britain’s “continuing responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong” in a speech in the city in March 1996, at the same time his Conservative party s worried about the potential scale of arrivals from Hong Kong. Hong Kong, according to Jonathan Dimbleby in his book “The Last Governor”. BN(O)’s greatest legacy may actually be increased acceptance of Hong Kong migration among UK allies. Several countries, including the United States, Canada and Australia, have followed its lead in making it easier to work legally and apply for residency for Hong Kong migrants.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com

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