By James Moules
A HONG Kong activist has called for the UK government to speed up its process of offering citizenship to Hong Kongers fleeing the region and resettling in Britain.
In January, the UK government brought in its new visa scheme for Hong Kong citizens – which gives them a pathway to British citizenship.
The system allows Hong Kongers who hold British national (overseas), or BNO, status to live in the UK for five years, after which they can apply for settled status. One year after this, they can apply for citizenship.
The plan was announced last summer in the wake of the Beijing-imposed National Security Bill, which critics decried as a widespread crackdown on the civil liberties and autonomy of Hong Kong.
But a pro-Hong Kong activist has told Redaction Politics they believe the UK government should immediately give Hong Kong BNO holders and refugees British citizenship.
To protect their identity, the activist has not been named.
They said: “The Government should grant all Hong Kong BNO holders, at least, Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) status and/or citizenship immediately, instead of the five year visa plus one year ILR status prior to full citizenship.
“Five years is a significant gap within politics and there could be political changes along the way, which could impact on the holders of the visa obtaining ILR/full citizenship towards the expiry of the visas.”
The British government recently granted asylum to Nathan Law, one of the most high profile democracy activists in Hong Kong.
The move was met with indignation from the Chinese authorities, with foreign affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian demanding that the UK “stop interfering in Hong Kong matters and China’s internal affairs.”
Meanwhile, the UK government has accused China of breaching the terms of the 1984 Joint Declaration, which granted Hong Kong substantial levels of autonomy upon its handover to China in 1997.
When China adjusted Hong Kong’s election law to grant Beijing greater control over candidacy, UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab said: “The Chinese authorities’ continued action means I must now report that the UK considers Beijing to be in a state of ongoing non-compliance with the Joint Declaration – a demonstration of the growing gulf between Beijing’s promises and its actions.
“The UK will continue to stand up for the people of Hong Kong. China must act in accordance with its legal obligations and respect fundamental rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.”
Regarding Nathan Law’s asylum, the unnamed Hong Kong activist told Redaction Politics: “Reading the lines, it is political in nature, in a direct response to China’s failure to honor the one country two systems agreed as one of the conditions for the handover in 1997. We obviously welcome the limited security that Nathan has been granted.
“The UK Government should grant political asylum to other high profile activists in a low profile manner to avoid escalating further diplomatic tensions with China.
“However, the asylum status granted to refugees is a seriously restricted status and this government has been found to treat asylum-seekers appallingly – with no right to vote or work, restrictions on international movement, restrictions on political activities and even possibilities of revoking asylum. Hence, we believe all Hong Kong BNO holders, including refugees, relocating to the UK should be granted full citizenship.”
They raised concerns regarding past Home Office incidents, such as the Windrush Scandal – and raised fears that Hong Kong migrants and asylum seekers could be in danger if they faced similar issues.
“In the event of failed application as a result of gaps within the Home Office system, the only route available to the failed applicant for ILR is to return to Hong Kong either voluntarily or repatriated,” they said.
“As the BNO visa is controversial, especially with the Chinese Government has specifically condemned the initiative, returnees to Hong Kong from the UK as a result of failed application of ILR could have severe consequences as a result of the implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law.
“In addition, many BNO visa holders and existing British Citizens with Hong Kong Ancestry are fearful of returning to Hong Kong for a short vacation or to visit relatives currently, as a result of the Hong Kong National Security Law.”
However, a Home Office spokesperson defended the current programme, saying: “This new visa route reflects the UK’s historic and moral commitment to those people of Hong Kong who chose to retain their ties to the UK by taking up BN(O) status. It is an unprecedented and generous immigration offer reflecting our deep connection with Hong Kong.
“There is no English language requirement for applicants to the Hong Kong BN(O) route, but they will require a good knowledge of the English language if they choose to make an application for indefinite leave to remain after five years.”
The Housing, Communities and Local Government minister Robert Jenrick told the BBC that those moving to the UK from Hong Kong would be given the help they need, saying: “If they struggle, then we’re here to support them.”
Diplomatic relations between the UK and China have soured in recent months – both regarding the crisis in Hong Kong and the UK’s criticism of the Chinese government’s repression of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang.
China recently placed sanctions on five UK MPs who have vocally condemned the Chinese regime, while the UK House of Commons has declared that China is committing genocide in Xinjiang.
While the anonymous activist told Redaction Politics that a diplomatic fallout was “inevitable,” they said: “We are more concerned about how the dispute between China and the UK might be escalated in a nationalist or warlike manner. Military engagement is still unlikely.
“However with the increasing racist violence focused on the Chinese and other South East Asia minorities particularly seen in the US with the atrocity in Atlanta but also here, the threat of nationalist hatred against South East Asia minorities is very serious.
“Great care needs to be taken to ensure that our opposition to the Chinese government goes alongside our clearest solidarity with the Chinese and all peoples.”
This article was updated on April 26, 2021 to include the Home Office statement.
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