analysis | How the UK’s Special Passport Provides an Escape Route for Hong Kongers

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As China tightens control over Hong Kong with a national security law introduced in June 2020, Britain provided a potential escape for its former colonists. Hong Kong’s strict coronavirus quarantine rules have added pressure to leave. More than 3 million people have been able to qualify under this program, but so far only a few have applied.

This involves granting extended rights to Hong Kong residents who hold a unique document known as a British citizenship (overseas) or BN(O) passport, and Hong Kong residents who are deemed eligible. The British created passports before returning Hong Kong to China in 1997. They allowed holders to visit the UK visa-free for up to six months, but did not automatically grant them the right to live or work there. Holders also did not have access to public funds.

Former British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in the House of Commons in July 2020 that a new “personalized immigration route” will allow people with BN(O) status to come to the UK without a six-month restriction. They can stay and work in the UK for 5 years. After that period, you can apply for settling status and after an additional 12 months you can apply for citizenship. Family dependents may also enter the UK and there is no upper limit on the number of applications. Support started in January 2021.

3. How successful was it?

As of December 2021, approximately 103,900 Hong Kongers had applied for citizenship, and the UK government has approved the majority of Hong Kongers. Total interest rates were about 15% below the lower bound of government expectations, and applicants declined in the quarter after the program began. By comparison, Hong Kong had an outflow of 89,200 residents per year by the end of June 2021, bringing the total population to around 7.39 million, a decrease of 1.2%.

The application fee and health surcharge per adult applying to enter the UK for two and a half years is £1740 ($2,124). That figure is £3,370, which is almost double for those who want to stay for five years. You must also prove that you have sufficient funds to support yourself and your family for at least six months. Many people with significant savings and assets bet on a house to move into. Most of the articles Bloomberg News interviewed in March 2022 sold everything before arriving in the UK and cashed in savings ranging from HK$500,000 to HK$5 million. ($63,700 to $637,000).

There were already around 350,000 BN(O) passport holders before the security law was introduced, according to the UK Interior Ministry. However, others born before July 1, 1997 were eligible and said the Ministry of Home Affairs estimates that there will be “about 2.9 million BN(O)” in Hong Kong in 2020. This equates to almost 40% of the population. People born after handover were not eligible, but the UK government plans to expand the program in October to include young people born on or after 1 July 1997 and who have at least one parent with BN(O) status. This allows young Hong Kongers to apply directly.

6. Why is the UK doing this?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said China’s implementation of the National Security Act was “a clear and serious violation” of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which laid the groundwork for Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997. Addressing the House of Representatives in July, he said after introduction that in 2020, if China continues that path, the UK has made it clear that the UK will introduce a new route for people with BN(O) status to enter the UK. In an interview with Sky News last month, Raab said Britain was prepared to sacrifice a free trade deal with China to protect Hong Kong citizens.

7. What is China’s response?

The Chinese embassy in London said in July 2020 that the UK had previously promised that it “will not grant residence to Chinese citizens of Hong Kong who hold BN(O) passports”. All Chinese compatriots living in Hong Kong were counted as Chinese, the embassy said. “If the UK unilaterally changes its practices, the UK side will violate its position and commitments, as well as international law and the basic norms that guide international relations,” he said. Two days before the program began, China said it would no longer accept BN(O) passports as valid travel documents and reserve its “right to take further action”.

8. Why didn’t Hong Kong people get regular British passports?

After return in 1997, Chinese and Hong Kong permanent residents born in Hong Kong were eligible for a new Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) passport. Prime Minister John Major, who was then Prime Minister of the Conservative Party, mentioned Britain’s “continuing responsibility to the people of Hong Kong” in a speech in Hong Kong in March 1996, but at the same time, returning home, within the Conservative Party, Jonathan Dimbleby’s book “Last Governor” stated: Hong Kong. BN(O)’s larger legacy could actually make it more receptive to a migration from Hong Kong among Britain’s allies. The United States, Canada, Australia and other countries are taking the lead in making it easier for immigrants from Hong Kong to work legally and apply for residency.

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