The UK will officially open a new path to citizenship for up to 3 million Hong Kong residents from Sunday, with the Home Office revealing it has already allowed 7,000 people from the former colony UK to settle before the program begins.
The figure is the first official confirmation that the UK has allowed thousands of people and their families from the territory with British National Overseas status to settle since July, when the Chinese government imposed a new national security law on Hong Kong.
Boris Johnson condemned the crackdown as a “serious violation” of the UK-China treaty which ceded control of the territory to Beijing in 1997 when he ad last year’s diet.
The program would allow up to 3 million of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million inhabitants with BNO status to apply for citizenship on much more favorable terms than most foreign citizens. The Chinese embassy in London said Thursday evening that the UK’s offer amounted to a violation of the UK’s commitments in the Sino-British treaty that returned the territory to Chinese rule. “The Chinese side has repeatedly expressed serious concern and strong opposition, and will certainly respond with countermeasures,” the embassy said.
The government’s decision to continue the program from Jan.31 comes as new U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled a harder position against what he sees as China’s human rights violations.
Mr Johnson is under increasing pressure from some members of his own Tory party to take a stronger stance on China. Hong Kong National Security Act and the repression against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang Province have been among the main causes of concern for a new China Research Group deputies demanding a firmer position.
Hong Kong BNO passport holders have already secured UK settlement
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the new visa fulfilled the UK’s promise to the people of Hong Kong and honored the UK’s “strong historic relationship” with the territory.
Tom Tugendhat, president of the CRG, welcomed the decision of Ms. Patel, who he said had “long recognized the duty we owe to those in Hong Kong”.
Holders of BNO passports – issued to Hong Kong residents born before 1997 – will be able to settle in and apply for unlimited residence after five years, followed by UK citizenship one year later.
Applicants will also be able to bring a range of dependents from the same household, including in certain circumstances parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren.
The 7,000 BNO passport holders already admitted have been granted a settlement in the UK at the discretion of the government, known as ‘leave outside the rules’.
The government has said that while applicants will be able to make appointments at UK visa processing centers from Sunday, from February 23 applicants with biometric passports will be able to apply fully online.
The Home Office said it would continue to offer BNO passport holders and their dependents arriving at the UK border a discretionary settlement until online applications open next month.
He said he expected between 258,000 and 322,400 BNO holders to use the route in the first five years.
Rob McNeil, deputy director of the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory, said the number admitted so far gave little evidence of the popularity of the route.
“This tells us that there has been some interest and that the UK government was willing to offer these people permission to stay, but not much more beyond that,” he said.