UK to Plan Citizenship for Hong Kong Residents if Chinese Regime Pursues Security Bill

US, UK, Australia, and Canada also issued a joint statement reprimanding Beijing’s move
May 29, 2020 Updated: May 29, 2020

The British government said on Thursday it will grant greater visa rights to British national overseas (BNO) passport holders from Hong Kong unless the Chinese regime suspends its so-called “national security” legislation on Hong Kong.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, said Thursday that if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) doesn’t scrap the national security legislation which was passed by China’s rubber-stamp legislature in the afternoon on May 28, BNO passport holders in Hong Kong would be allowed to stay in Britain for 12 months instead of the current six.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrives in Downing street in central London, on May 28, 2020. (Niklas Halle’n/AFP via Getty Images)

“In relation to BNO passport holders, as you know currently they only have the right to come to the UK for six months,” Raab said. “If China continues down this path and implements this national security legislation, we will change that status.”

Raab added that BNO passport holders will be able to extend their length of stay, and this will provide the possibility of UK citizenship.

“And we will remove that six-month limit and allow those BNO passport holders to come to the UK and to apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months and that will provide a pathway to future citizenship,” he said.

Raab said he was making the move after China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People Congress (NPC), passed a draft resolution on the law which was designed to allow Beijing to bypass Hong Kong’s own legislature.

The law bans acts of “secession, subversion, and terrorism activities” against the CCP, and has attracted condemnation both inside and outside Hong Kong.

Proclaiming Hong Kong a “bastion of freedom,” the United States and its major allies—the UK, Australia, and Canada—issued a joint statement reprimanding Beijing’s move, warning that the law could jeopardize the city’s status as an international hub known for its rule of law and civil liberties.

The countries said the proposal “lies in direct conflict with its [China’s] international obligations” and risks exacerbating existing conflicts in the city, where protests recently reignited.

At a press conference in London, Raab said the UK is “deeply troubled about this step” and urged the Chinese regime to “step back from the brink and live up to its responsibilities as a leading member of the international community.”

hong kong protest mong kok
Hong Kong protesters rally against China’s national security law at Mongkok district in Hong Kong, on May 27, 2020. (Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images)
Hong Kong Rallies Against China's Proposed Security Law
A protest against Beijing’s proposed National Security Law on Hong Kong Island in Hong Kong on May 24, 2020. (Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)

Many fear that the law would be used by Beijing to suppress and persecute dissenting voices. Local anti-CCP advocates, human rights advocates, pro-democracy advocates, and lawmakers note that the “national security” laws are frequently used to prosecute and jail dissidents in the mainland.

The law also opens up the possibility of Beijing’s security agencies setting up operations in Hong Kong.

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid said in a post on Twitter that he “strongly” welcomes Raab’s statement on Hong Kong.

“Given recent developments, we should extend leave to remain to all holders of BNO passports, providing a clear path to UK citizenship,” he said. “This is solely a matter for the UK and consistent with the Sino-British declaration. We should also cut the cost of applying for BNO passports and extend rights to direct dependents.”

Sajid Javid
Conservative MP and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid in Westminster, central London on March 2, 2020. (Daniel Leal Olivas/AFP via Getty Images)

“We have a moral, not just legal, obligation to the people of Hong Kong.”

According to the British Home Office, up to 314,000 Hongkongers could have such passports.

Eva Fu and the Associated Press contributed to this report.