The UK’s new visa scheme for Hong Kong BN(O) status holders will not only help Hongkongers but also benefit Britain, Benedict Rogers, chief executive of British NGO Hong Kong Watch, said on Friday.
“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.
There are approximately 3 million BN(O) status holders in Hong Kong. From Jan. 31, they and their eligible family members can apply for a visa to live, study, and work in the UK.
“As with other visas, after 5 years in the UK, they will be able to apply for settlement, followed by British citizenship after a further 12 months,” the UK government said in a statement.
Rogers said that the government estimated that between 150,000 and 300,000 Hongkongers will make the application over the next year or two.
“There’ll be people who want to stay in Hong Kong; there’ll be people who may choose to go to other parts of the world,” Rogers said.
He praised the UK government for the “incredibly bold and generous” offer of a path to citizenship for Hongkongers.
“I think it’s absolutely right, because Britain does have a moral responsibility to Hong Kong, and indeed a legal responsibility under the Sino-British Joint Declaration as well,” he said.
“Given the fact that Hong Kong’s freedoms are being dismantled, freedoms that were promised to Hong Kong as under the Joint Declaration, I think it’s absolutely right that we now offer those who want to, to be able to come to the UK and to have a place of safety and freedom.”
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.”
Rogers said he considers Beijing’s move to be “largely a symbolic threat,” since most BN(O) passport holders also have a Hong Kong passport. However, he does have some concerns over the move.
“It does raise questions about the status of BN(O) passport holders once they’ve left, and in effect until they are given British citizenship, they will effectively be stateless people,” he said.
“So I hope that the Chinese government doesn’t go further in implementing this threat,” he added. “I hope that the British government will do everything possible to assist BN(O) holders so that they don’t have this stateless situation.”
Rogers said he’s worried that the Chinese authorities may put pressure on BN(O) status holders, “either to prevent them from leaving, or to make it very costly for them to leave.”
“There’s concern that they may not be able to withdraw, for example, their pension funds. … That would be very concerning,” he said.
Rogers is also concerned about some “possible hostility” toward the incoming group, because they’re arriving in the UK at a “very challenging time,” when the economy is under great pressure because of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic and the lockdown measures to control the virus.
This is something to be mindful of and prepared for, Rogers said, but he doesn’t think it would be widespread.
“I think Britain will welcome them. And in the long run, as I say, they will benefit the UK,” he said.
“Ideally, I don’t want them to have to come. I want Hong Kong to remain to be the free city that it was until relatively recently. But given the situation in Hong Kong, I hope that those who want to leave can find that new life in the free world.”
Reporting by Jeff Zhang of NTD.