As part of a program that goes into effect on Sunday, Hong Kong people with BN (O) status will have access to British citizenship.
The British government said on Friday it stood with residents of its former colony of Hong Kong in the face of Chinese repression as it prepared to launch a colonization program that could enable millions of the territory’s live permanently in UK.
People with British (overseas) national status – a legacy of British rule over Hong Kong until 1997 – will be able to apply to live and work in the UK for five years, and possibly apply for citizenship, under rules which were amended after China imposed the National Security Law on the territory last year.
Before the change, which takes effect on Sunday, people with BN (O) status could only visit the UK for a maximum of six months and were not allowed to work or settle.
“I am extremely proud that we have put in place this new path for the BN (O) of Hong Kong to live, work and settle in our country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
“In doing so, we honored our deep ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we stood up for freedom and self-reliance – values dear to the UK and Hong Kong.”
China says the UK’s path to citizenship violates international law and interferes with its internal affairs.
Any Hong Kong resident born before 1997 is eligible for BN (O) status and the new rules mean that around 2.9 million adults in Hong Kong and an additional 2.3 million dependents could be eligible for s settle in UK. Hong Kong has a population of around 7.5 million.
The new way is not cheap.
A five-year visa costs 250 British pounds ($ 340) for each person. But a mandatory supplement to access the UK public health service will be £ 3,120 ($ 4,280) per adult and £ 2,350 ($ 3,224) for those under 18.
Shorter and cheaper 30-month visas will also be available.
“We have made it clear that we will not look away when it comes to Hong Kong. We will live up to our historic responsibility to its people, ”Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said.
“China’s imposition of the National Security Law on Hong Kong is a clear and serious violation of the Sino-British (pre-transfer) joint statement contrary to international law.”
Fears of repression
China imposed the security law on June 30 last year, focusing largely on acts Beijing deems of secession, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with foreign forces.
The legislation followed months of pro-democracy protests that were marked by increasing violence towards the end of 2019, but subsided in 2020 following measures imposed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the law was passed, pro-democracy activists and politicians in the territory – including those elected to the Legislative Council, Hong Kong’s mini-parliament, have been arrested. The month of January was marked by a series of mass arrests. China media mogul and critic Jimmy Lai is among the most prominent people facing charges under the law.
Besides the UK, some other western countries have also eased immigration rules for Hong Kong after the security law was imposed.
Between July and this month, around 7,000 people with BN (O) status and their families have already been allowed to stay in the UK.
The UK government expects more than 300,000 people and their dependents to take advantage of the BN (O) offer.