The UK government on Sunday officially opened a new visa scheme designed to offer holders of British National (Overseas) status in Hong Kong a path to citizenship at a time when freedom and human rights in the former British colony are under unprecedented threat from the Chinese regime.
The scheme, first announced last July after Beijing’s imposition of a draconian national security law for Hong Kong, allows BN(O) status holders to live, study, and work in the UK for five years and eventually apply for citizenship.
The UK has a historic and moral commitment to the people of #HongKong. From Sunday 31 January, the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa will be open for applications.
— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) January 29, 2021
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “immensely proud” of having introduced the new scheme.
“In doing so we have honoured our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy—values both the UK and Hong Kong hold dear,” he said in a statement issued on Friday.
The same day, the Chinese regime retaliated by saying it would stop recognising BN(O) passports as travel and identity documents on Sunday.
In response, the UK’s foreign office said Britain was “disappointed but not surprised” by Beijing’s move.
“Despite China’s announcement, BN(O)s and their families will be able to use documentation other than BN(O) passports to take up this visa,” said a spokesperson for Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times.
The national security law, which went into effect on June 30, 2020, 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.
Johnson made the visa offer to Hong Kong residents on July 1, after declaring the law “constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration” as it “violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and is in direct conflict with Hong Kong basic law.”
“We have been clear we won’t look the other way when it comes to Hong Kong,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Friday. “We will live up to our historic responsibility to its people.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian blasted the British scheme on Friday, saying it “seriously infringes on China’s sovereignty, grossly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and seriously violates international law and the basic norms of international relations.”
Benedict Rogers, chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, told NTD that he considers Zhao’s accusation “ridiculous.”
“It is the Chinese regime that has, not just once, but several times, committed very grave breaches of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. It’s broken its promises to the people of Hong Kong to uphold autonomy, and ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ and Hong Kong’s basic freedoms.”
Rogers said the British visa scheme will not only help Hongkongers, but also benefit Britain.
“Hong Kong people are, as a generalisation, entrepreneurial, dynamic, creative, very educated people with a lot of initiative,” Rogers told NTD on Friday.
“They are people who share the same values as us in the UK, the values of democracy, and human rights, and the rule of law.”
Although they will need some help with settling down, he believes Hongkongers will bring a boost to Britain’s economy in the long run.
Jeff Zhang of NTD and Lily Zhou contributed to this report.