As Beijing tightens its grip on Hong Kong following the imposition of the National Security Law in July last year, Australia has given safe harbour to Hong Kongers fleeing the country to escape communist control.
According to data obtained by SBS, one of Australia’s public broadcasters, around 1,849 Hong Kongers were granted permanent residency (PR) visas between July and November last year. This is a 26 percent increase compared to the five months prior to the introduction of the law.
The largest majority of Hong Kongers who were granted PR status occurred in November, with around 59.7 percent (345) being through the skilled worker stream.
This marks a 117 percent increase in skilled visas granted in the February to June period.
The Morrison government last year unveiled a “safe haven” plan which would allow Hong Kong passport holders, who hold Australian student, recent graduate, or skilled workers visas, to extend their stay for another five years, with the possibility of a path to permanent residency.
Hong Kongers Afraid to Go Home
Tensions between the Hong Kong police and pro-democracy protesters heightened last month, as 53 activists and former lawmakers were arrested for allegedly “subverting” the city’s national security law.
Graeme Smith, a fellow at the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University, told public broadcaster ABC that the police presence in Hong Kong “is even more claustrophobic” than in the past.
“It’s been an amazing transformation for the Hong Kong police force, from one of the most trusted in Asia to basically a force that is feared,” he said.
One Hong Konger who successfully applied for a visa extension told the ABC that he did not feel safe returning home as the police would arrest him for “political” content he shared on social media.
“Since I left [Hong Kong], things are getting worse and worse,” he said. “They are trying to control the people.”
Another source told SBS that the “bleak outlook” and “backward education system” in Hong Kong after the Chinese Communist Party’s takeover has motivated her to escape from her hometown.
The gloomy situation in Hong Kong means Australia has seen an influx of Hong Kong immigrants.
Aussie Politicians Speak Out
Rex Patrick, a South Australian independent senator, has been calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to make the immigration criteria less stringent to smooth the way for Hong Kongers to reside in Australia, The Guardian reported.
“China’s demolition of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong is accelerating,” Patrick said. “In these circumstances, Australia must open our door wider to give our Hong Kong friends refuge, safety, and full opportunity to enjoy democratic freedoms.”
Meanwhile, the Australian Greens have been pushing for stronger measures that would grant “permanent protection for all Hong Kongers who currently reside in Australia.”
The Greens’ foreign affairs spokesperson, Senator Janet Rice, said she wanted Australia to adopt the “Tiananmen-style” immigration policy, considering the current situation in Hong Kong. Rice was referring to when former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke granted 42,000 permanent visas to Chinese nationals after the Tiananmen Square massacre.
“Hong Kong’s political refugees need a Hawke, but in Scott Morrison, they got a Howard,” she told The Guardian. Referring to former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, who was known for his tough immigration policies.
Luring Talent Down Under
Australia’s move to offer safe haven to Hong Kongers fleeing communist China serves a dual purpose of luring “super talent” down under.
Last year, the government set up a Global Business and Talent Attraction Taskforce to hunt for “super talent” in key markets including Hong Kong, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The program aims to lure special global talents to Australia and boost domestic employment.
The United Kingdom and Canada have also opened their doors to Hong Kong refugees, launching immigration measures to encourage Hong Kong passport holders to migrate.
The UK government announced last year that Hong Kong passport holders with British National Overseas (BNO) status can live, study, and work in Britain for five years before applying for citizenship. It is estimated that over 250,000 Hong Kongers will apply for the visa in five years.
Meanwhile, under Canada’s migration scheme, all Hong Kong university students in Canada in the past five years are eligible for a three-year work visa, which will eventually allow them to apply for permanent residency.
Salvatore Babones, an expert in the political economy of East Asia, said that although Australia is a top destination for talented individuals, it still has a long way to go before becoming the next business hub for Asia, especially when compared to other countries such as Japan and Singapore.
“Australia’s chief advantage is lifestyle, and that is less persuasive for businesses than it is for individuals. When it comes to operating as an Asian business hub, Australia is just too far away,” he told The Epoch Times.
Daniel Y. Teng contributed to this article.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of permanent residency visas granted through the skilled worker stream. The Epoch Times regrets the error.