Hong Kong citizens offered route to UK citizenship
Prime minister Boris Johnson has said that the roughly three million British National Overseas [BNO] Passport holders in Hong Kong will have the opportunity to settle in the UK and apply for full citizenship.
The move comes after China introduced a new security law which Johnson said was a violation of Hong King’s rights and freedoms set out in the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1985 which saw power in the region handed back to China in 1997. These freedoms do not exist in mainland China.
Around 350,000 UK Passport holders and a further 2.6 million who are eligible will be able to stay in the UK for five years, and will then be allowed to apply for citizenship after a sixth year.
As it stands, BNO Passport holders in Hong Kong are only allowed to stay in the UK without a visa for six months. The new plans will allow all British Overseas Nationals and any dependants the right to remain in the UK, including granting them the right to work and study for five years, after which they can apply for settled status and then citizenship following a sixth year in the country.
The prime minister said: “It [the new law] violates Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the Joint Declaration.
"We made clear that if China continued down this path we would introduce a new route for those with British National [Overseas] status to enter the UK, granting them limited leave to remain with the ability to live and work in the UK and thereafter to apply for citizenship. And that is precisely what we will do now."
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab told MPs that there will not be a cap on numbers or quotas under the new arrangements.
Raab said: “This is a special, bespoke, set of arrangements developed for the unique circumstances we face and in light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong.”
The PM’s official spokesman confirmed that BNO Passport holders in Hong Kong could begin travelling to the UK immediately with standard immigration checks in place, adding that more details about the route to citizenship scheme would be confirmed in due course.
Any BNO Passport holders travelling to the UK will not be subject to salary thresholds when applying for their visas.
China has rebuffed all criticism of the new security law to date, rejecting the idea that it undermines the “one country, two systems” principle within the Joint Declaration and claiming that security within Hong Kong is an internal affair.
The law has made it a criminal offence to undermine Beijing’s authority in the region, making secession, subversion and terrorist punishable by life in prison. The law came into force on Tuesday this week.
The law has only raised further concern among MPs of China’s increasing presence in the region and reignited worry over security concerns linked to Huawei’s role in the UK 5G network.
Raab said that the government wished for a positive relationship with Beijing but stressed that China had “broken its promise” to Hong Kong with a “flagrant assault” on freedom of speech and the right to peacefully protest.
Labour shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy was supportive of the government’s move, but stressed that the UK had to consider those who are unable to relocate or wish to continue living in Hong Kong.
Nandy suggested that the government reconsider its existing business relationship with China and work with international allies through the UN to launch an inquiry into police brutality within the region.
She said: “For too long in relation to China we've had no strategy at home and no strategy abroad. I hope he can give us a commitment today that this marks the start of a very different era.”