As part of the program, which went into effect on Sunday, people with BN (O) status in Hong Kong have the path to British citizenship.
The British government said Friday it stood by the people of its former Hong Kong colony in the face of Chinese action as it prepared to launch a settlement program that could enable millions of the territory’s people to live permanently in the UK.
Individuals with UK national (overseas) status – a legacy of British rule over Hong Kong until 1997 – can live and work in the UK for up to five years and eventually apply for citizenship after changing the rules that China added to the territory last year imposed by the national security law.
Before the change, which will take effect on Sunday, people with BN (O) status could only visit the UK for up to six months and were not allowed to work or settle down.
“I am extremely proud that we have introduced this new route for BN (O) in Hong Kong to live, work and find their home in our country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
“We have thus recognized our deep connection between history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong and campaigned for freedom and autonomy – values that are dear to both Great Britain and Hong Kong.”
China says the path to citizenship offered by Britain is a violation of international law and affects its internal affairs.
Any resident of Hong Kong born before 1997 is eligible for BN (O) status. An estimated 2.9 million Hong Kong adults and an additional 2.3 million loved ones could move to the UK under the new rules. About 7.5 million people live in Hong Kong.
During the mass demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2019, rallies in London called on the UK government to do more to help the people of the former British colony [File: Henry Nicholls/Reuters]The new way is not cheap.
A five-year visa costs £ 250 (US $ 340) per person. However, a mandatory surcharge for access to the UK Government Health Service is £ 3,120 (US $ 4,280) per adult and £ 2,350 (US $ 3,224) for those under the age of 18.
Shorter, cheaper visas for 30 months are also available.
“We were sure that we would not look the other way in Hong Kong. We are living up to our historical responsibility towards the people, ”said Foreign Minister Dominic Raab.
“China’s introduction of the National Security Law in Hong Kong is a clear and grave violation of the (pre-delivery) Sino-British joint statement, which violates international law.”
Reach through fears
China passed the security law on June 30th last year, mainly focusing on what Beijing sees as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces.
Legislation followed months of protests for democracy, which were marked by mounting violence towards the end of 2019 but calmed down in 2020 due to measures taken to combat 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. January was marked by a series of mass arrests. Jimmy Lai, a media tycoon and critic of China, is one of the most prominent figures to be indicted under the law.
In addition to the UK, several other western countries have eased immigration regulations in relation to Hong Kong following the introduction of the Security Act.
Between July and this month, around 7,000 people with BN (O) status and their families were allowed to stay in the UK.
The UK government expects more than 300,000 people and their loved ones to use the BN (O) service.