Ariel Go Jr
Thousands of Hong Kong citizens have made the distressing decision to leave their city and move to the United Kingdom due to a new national security law that criminalizes supposed acts of secession, terrorism, and collusion. According to the LA Times, protests and other forms of demonstration began in early 2019 when Hong Kong citizens took to the streets to protest a Chinese extradition bill, demanding full democracy and questioning police actions. In response, China passed the national security law, which has a maximum charge of a life sentence in prison and caused widespread fear and controversy.
A British colony up until 1997, Hong Kong is currently a semi-autonomous, special administrative region of China. Nevertheless, Beijing has recently asserted authoritarian rule over the territory, stripping it of its autonomy and valuable civil and social freedoms. Renowned activists and politicians have fled the country while many others are quietly preparing to move overseas.
According to Reuters, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that this controversial national security legislation was a “clear and serious breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration agreement, a legally binding agreement signed in 1985 between China and the UK. The agreement aimed to protect certain freedoms of the citizens of Hong Kong until 2047, exactly 50 years after China accepted sovereignty over the territory. In response to the breach, the Prime Minister proposed last year to alter immigration laws in the UK, creating a new path for Hong Kong citizens possessing British National Overseas (BNO) passports to gain visas. BBC News reports that 5.4 million Hong Kong residents are eligible for the visas, or around 70 percent of the population. This includes the 3 million residents qualified for the visa and their 2.4 million dependents.
The new system gives eligible residents the opportunity to live, work, and study in the UK for five years and opens a potential route towards citizenship. Applications for the visas were made available on January 31, and a digital version launched through a smartphone application will be accessible on February 23, reports by BBC News. As of now, the Home Office, the British government department responsible for immigration and security, assesses that between 123,000 to 153,700 Hong Kong residents will take advantage of the new plan in the first year – the projection predicts an increase to 322,000 over the next five years. This could also benefit the UK, as it will bring in an estimated 2.4 to 2.9 billion euros to the UK by 2025, states The Guardian.
China reacted quickly to the British move, challenging the plan on the grounds that it infringes on China’s sovereignty and heavily interferes with Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs. According to CBS News, Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, also added that the move “seriously violates international law and the basic norms of international relations.” In response, China recently announced that it would no longer recognize the passports of BNO citizens as a valid travel and ID document. Although it remains uncertain how this change would affect the thousands of people deciding to leave Hong Kong, the UK claims that BNO holders and their families can rest assured, as they can use documentation other than BNO passports to attain the visa.