Some Hong Kong residents begin to apply for UK visas leading to citizenship

On January 31, the United Kingdom officially began the procedures for obtaining citizenship for Hong Kong, and in recent days, many residents of the semi-autonomous island have arrived on British soil to begin the process, fearing Chinese repression.

Starting Sunday, Hong Kong residents can apply for a new visa that gives them the opportunity to become British citizens, an offer from London after China imposed the National Security Act, which left hundreds of detainees in detention after protesting in a former colony. The United Kingdom to demand more freedoms.

In recent days, dozens of Hong Kong residents have arrived on British soil to begin the process, which consists first of obtaining a five-year residence and work permit – through the so-called British Overseas Passport (BNO) – after which they can apply for citizenship. One of the conditions for applicants is to show that they have enough money to live at least six months.

Among those who came to the UK was Cindy, a woman who has several properties with her husband and has a company in Hong Kong, but moved to London last week and left everything behind to move in with her family. And not until the epidemic stopped them.

“Uprooting ourselves in this way is not easy. But things got worse last year, the government was pushing us away (…) Everything we value, freedom of speech, fair elections, public freedoms, erode.” The businesswoman and a mother of two young children, who did not mention her family name, explained Fearing the repercussions of speaking out against Beijing, “Hong Kong as we know it is no longer a place we can call home.”

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Cindy said she and other Hong Kong residents prefer access to the immigration process as soon as possible because they fear the Chinese government will start preventing a possible mass exodus.

For his part, Anson Low, 25, who works in sales, said that he would consider moving to the UK despite the tough economic times the world is going through.

“It is still better than Hong Kong. For example, for young people like us who do not know how to live or live here,” he stressed. Although he added that many are still studying the situation before moving in in the near future.

British “lifeboat” without a place for most of the protesters

The British government justified this measure by claiming that China was not fulfilling the obligations made during the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, which implies guaranteeing freedoms and autonomy for the territory for at least fifty years. Although London claims to offer a way out of Beijing’s repressive measures, some accuse Boris Johnson’s CEO of hypocrisy, as it reaches so few pro-democracy activists.

“For all those who fear for their freedom, this is an emergency exit and they will definitely leave,” Pierre Grosser, a historian specializing in international relations at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, better known as Sciences Po, told France 24. “But I don’t see a big wave of immigration,” he added.

And Catherine added, “In reality, pro-democracy advocates have no other options.” From the Lion Rock Hill UK group , Which promotes Hong Kong culture in the United Kingdom. In an interview with France 24, he explained, “Most of the demonstrators in the past two years are not yet 24 years old: they are not worried about BNO!”

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It just so happens that Hong Kong citizens born before 1997 are eligible to obtain a BNO passport, that is, 70% of Hong Kong’s population, which is estimated at 7.5 million.

A protester displays his British passport abroad during a demonstration to commemorate the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Hong Kong on June 4, 2020. © Tyrone Seo / Reuters

“It’s British hypocrisy,” Jean-Yves Cullen, a North Asia expert at the Asia Center, told France 24. “In part, the British admit to transferring their guilt to handing over Hong Kong to Beijing, but they can also use this opportunity to replace post-Brexit European workers with people from Hong Kong! And restore their image,” he suggests.

Catherine of Lyon Rock Hill, UK, added: “Nevertheless, there may be a majority of Hong Kong residents over the age of 25 who would rather leave, rather than live without liberties or be detained by the police without a valid reason.”

The UK started the process several months after it was announced

Although the plan was announced by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government in July 2020, the official inauguration took place on January 31.

“Before the BNO visa was announced in July, we didn’t have a lot of inquiries about immigration to the UK, maybe less than 10 calls per month … Now we get around 10 to 15 calls a day to inquire about it,” Andrew explained. Lowe, founder of Anlex Immigration Consultants. In Hong Kong.

While it is not known how many Hong Kong residents want to claim the new system, BNO passport applications have increased by more than 300% since the Security Act came into effect in late June, according to London. As of mid-January, there were 733,000 BNO holders. The British government estimates that 150,000 Hong Kong residents may arrive in the next 12 months and 322,000 in the next five years.

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London’s reasons are that in 1997, when it returned to its then colony and became a Special Administrative Region of China, the United Kingdom offered Hong Kong a British overseas passport. Until now, these people could only visit the UK for six months without needing a visa, but they had no right to live or work there.

Johnson said his government provides an immigration opportunity because his country owes a debt to the people of Hong Kong. The offer came in the same month that Beijing imposed the so-called National Security Act, which includes life sentences for those who, in its view, commit crimes of secession, sabotage, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

The law was launched amid mass protests in recent years as Hong Kong residents protested to demand more freedoms from China.

Beijing is threatening revenge

The UK’s decision angered the Chinese government. Beijing announced Friday that it will not recognize British overseas passports, which is a token decision, given that BNO has value only in London.

But the Chinese executive has not ruled out “other measures”, although it is not yet clear what steps it will take against those who accept the London offer. The local press reported that the Chinese government may prevent them from participating in local elections, work in official jobs, or ban dual nationalities.

“I think at a certain point, the Chinese authorities will do everything in their power to prevent Hong Kong residents from leaving,” said Jean-Yves Coleen of the Asia Center.

On Sunday, the new Chinese official agency accused London of being a “colonial mentality” and warned that the new agreements would harm “bilateral relations” and “long-term interests of the United Kingdom.”

With information from Reuters, The Associated Press, and the France 24 article

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