The Chinese regime is trying to send spies to the UK by abusing a special visa plan designed to help Hongkongers flee the increasingly harsh suppression of freedoms in the former British colony, a British newspaper reported on Aug. 9.
The UK government is aware of “sleeper agents” working for the Chinese regime applying for UK visas under a new plan designed to offer holders of British National (Overseas), or BN(O), status in Hong Kong a path to citizenship, The Times of London quoted UK government sources as saying.
“There are stringent background checks in place for the visa applications—and they’re in place for a reason,” the government sources were quoted as saying. “The vetting process for the BN(O) visa scheme is much more thorough than any other.”
Benedict Rogers, chief executive of the non-governmental organization Hong Kong Watch and a co-founder of the UK Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission, said the revelation was “totally outrageous.”
“The UK must tighten procedures in order to vet and screen out these spies,” he wrote on Twitter.
A Home Office spokesperson emailed a statement to The Epoch Times in reaction to the report.
“The BN(O) visa route reflects the UK’s historic and moral commitment to those people of Hong Kong who chose to retain their ties to the UK by taking up BN(O) status. It is an unprecedented and generous offer reflecting our deep connection with Hong Kong,” the spokesperson said.
“There are safeguards in place throughout the application process to ensure it is free from abuse and helps those most in need.”
The Epoch Times also asked the Home Office to either confirm or deny the allegations cited in The Times of London’s report, but didn’t receive a response by press time.
The new visa plan for BN(O) status holders was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in July 2020, after Beijing imposed a draconian national security law for Hong Kong, which criminalizes individuals for any acts of subversion, secession, and collusion with foreign forces against the Chinese Communist Party, with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The plan, which was launched in January, allows BN(O) status holders to live, study, and work in the UK for five years and eventually apply for citizenship.
According to government statistics, there were 34,300 applications for the visa in the first three months of 2021. Among those visa requests, 20,000 were main applicants and 14,300 were dependents.
Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, told The Times of London that he believed the BN(O) visa plan was “the right response” to the imposition of the national security law.
But he said the UK should “get real” about the risk of the Chinese regime abusing the plan to plant spies in Britain, as it’s “a totalitarian state which uses informers.”