Hong Kong residents can apply for a new visa starting Sunday offering them the chance to become British citizens as the UK opens its doors to those who wish to escape China’s crackdown on dissent in the semi-detached city. autonomous.
From Sunday afternoon, anyone with a British National Overseas Passport (BNO) and their dependents will be able to apply online for a visa allowing them to live and work in the UK. After five years, they can then apply for citizenship.
The visa regime is a response to Beijing’s decision last year to impose a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong, a former British colony, to quell huge and sometimes violent protests in favor of the democracy.
The UK has said the law – which punishes subversion, collusion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces – violates the terms of the agreements under which Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. London did. argue that she had a moral duty to the people of Hong Kong.
“We have honored our deep ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and self-reliance,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said of the project this week.
China has reacted with fury to the visa offer.
On Friday, he announced that BNO passports would no longer be recognized as a legitimate travel or identity document.
The move was largely symbolic, as Hong Kong people tend to use their own passports or ID cards to leave the city.
But Beijing said it was ready to take “new measures”, raising fears that the authorities would try to prevent Hong Kong residents from leaving for the United Kingdom.
Thousands of people flee Hong Kong
Cindy, a businesswoman and mother of two young children, left Hong Kong for London last week.
“To uproot oneself like that is certainly not easy. But things got uglier last year, the government was really chasing us, ”she told the Associated Press news agency, declining to give her last name because she feared repercussions for her. ‘be pronounced against the Chinese government.
“Everything we value – free speech, fair elections, freedoms – has been eroded. It’s no longer the Hong Kong we used to know, it’s no longer a place we can call home.
The UK has predicted that as many as 154,000 Hong Kong people could arrive over the next year and up to 322,000 over five years, bringing an estimated ‘net profit’ of £ 2.9bn (£ 4bn). dollars).
Earlier this week, the British government said some 7,000 Hong Kongers with BNO status had arrived in the country since July. They have moved under a separate system of leave outside the rules and will also be able to apply for citizenship access visas.
The UK introduced BNO passports in the 1980s for people who were ‘UK citizens of Hong Kong dependent territories’.
Many of the city’s residents at the time wanted the UK to grant them full citizenship, but China was opposed to the move. The BNO was a compromise, granting Hong Kongers born before 1997 the right to stay in the UK for six months at a time, but without the right to work or the right of establishment.
Today, it has become one of the few ways out for Hong Kong people who hope to start a new life abroad as authorities make mass arrests against democracy supporters and scramble to purge the city agitated by dissenting opinions.
“I think if you knew when to shut up you would be okay with staying in Hong Kong,” said Fan, 39, who also recently arrived in London. “But I don’t want to do this. I can complain about the queen if I wanted to – I can say it all here.
Fan, a host, told AP he sold his apartment in Hong Kong and plans to slowly build a new life in the UK – a country he has never even visited before. He won’t be alone from scratch.
Under the visa regime, those wishing to relocate must show that they have sufficient funds to support themselves and their dependents for at least six months.
Hong Kongers already in the UK who are involved in helping others relocate say many of the early applicants tend to be educated, middle-class people, often with young families, who have enough cash on hand to fund their move. .
“Most of the people we spoke to are families with children of primary school or kindergarten age,” Nic, an activist with a group called Lion Rock Hill UK, told the news agency. AFP press, asking for anonymity.
Mike, a medical scientist who recently moved with his family to the city of Manchester, told AFP that the BNO passport “is definitely a lifeboat for Hong Kong people.”
He said many in Hong Kong feared China would prevent residents from leaving the territory.
“So, it is better to leave as soon as possible”, he added.