The UK’s new visa programme allowing Hong Kong British National (Overseas) status holders to live in the UK is “very generous” and “addresses the desperate needs of Hong Kong people,” an exiled Hong Kong human rights activist said.
BN(O) status holders in Hong Kong and their eligible family members can apply for a visa to live, study, and work in the UK from Jan. 31, with the opportunity to renew the visa and eventually apply for British citizenship.
Simon Cheng, a former employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong who is now living in the UK, said he believes most people in Hong Kong are grateful for the UK’s offer, and welcome the opportunity.
“I feel that a sense of fear would be prevailing and common in Hong Kong. People are losing confidence to ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ so that’s why they’re getting out,” the pro-democracy activist told The Epoch Times on Friday.
He said that once freedom is lost in Hong Kong, it’s natural for the city’s residents to “want to go to a free place to live,” regardless of one’s political alignment.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian earlier on Friday announced that the Chinese regime would no longer recognise the BN(O) passport as a travel document and proof of identity starting from Jan. 31, and “reserves the right to take further measures.”
Cheng believes Beijing’s derecognition of the BN(O) passport is currently more of a symbolic gesture, and that it may be a relief to those who feared worse. But he also has concerns that it could be taken further.
“They [might] in the future find their own way to see who are using the passport to settle down in the UK though this scheme, and possibly [in] retaliation, they’ll deprive [them of] their Chinese nationality.” Cheng said.
He said that some people won’t be concerned about this since they don’t want to be identified as “CCP [Chinese Communist Party] Chinese,” but for others who have family in Hong Kong, it could cause “a lot of unnecessary inconvenience.”
Cheng’s short business trip to the Chinese border city of Shenzhen in August 2019 turned into a nightmare: For 15 days, he was held incommunicado, accused by Chinese authorities of being a British spy, and tortured to extract intelligence about protesters in his home city.
After arriving in the UK in late 2019, Cheng became the first BN(O) passport holder to be granted asylum. He said that he now feels a sense of duty to help other Hongkongers.
“We set up an expats group for Hong Kong people in the UK—HongKongers in Britain—and one of the objectives [is] we’ll be helping Hong Kong people [so they] can be easily assimilated and settled down in the UK, and make sure they’re much more contributive to the UK economy and society,” he said.
Maggie Wong, a BN(O) passport holder who has lived in the UK for a few years, said the UK’s offer is “a great sign” that shows the UK government had been thinking about how to help the people in Hong Kong.
“I’m really grateful for that. And I think a lot of Hong Kong people share the same opinion as well,” she told The Epoch Times on Friday.
On Thursday, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam told Bloomberg that she doesn’t see why anyone would want to go to the UK.
“I just don’t see how 2.9 million Hong Kong people would love to move to the United Kingdom,” she said. “The important thing is for us to tell the people of Hong Kong that Hong Kong’s future is bright.”
Wong said that she couldn’t see herself being happy in Hong Kong right now.
“From my personal perspective, I mean, look at the past couple years, what has been happening in Hong Kong? I think I cannot see how people can make a conclusion saying that Hong Kong’s future is really bright right now,” she said.
She added that people’s sense of security has been seriously damaged.
“All of my friends or family in Hong Kong, they, to a very large extent, they don’t feel like this is the same Hong Kong anymore,” Wong said. “So I don’t really understand why Carrie Lam would make such a statement.”
“I think if people would have a chance or opportunity, they would consider moving abroad, just so they could have a brighter future,” she added.
Though she regards the derecognition of the BN(O) passport as more of a protest on Beijing’s part rather than a real deprivation of the ability to travel, Wong has the same concerns as Cheng.
“What concerns me would be their next step, whether or not Hong Kong people would be able to hold two passports, like the BN(O) and as well as the Hong Kong passport [the main document used for travel in and out of Hong Kong],” she said.
“I do wish that the UK government, they might be able to say even though the Chinese government do not recognise this, we are still welcoming the people. So I am hoping that they might make a statement to reassure Hong Kong people so that they don’t get panicked,” Wong said.
The UK’s Foreign Office later on Friday issued a statement saying BN(O) status holders can apply for a visa with other documents.
Eva Fu contributed to this report.