Ever since Beijing imposed a strict national security law on Hong Kong last summer, thousands of residents have already made the decision to leave behind their city and move to Britain.
The fear of punishment for supporting the pro-democracy protests that swept the former British colony in 2019 is among their reasons for leaving, while others say China’s encroachment on their way of life and civil liberties has become unbearable.
Some say they want to seek a better future for their children abroad and most say they don’t plan to ever go back.
The moves are expected to accelerate now that 5 million Hongkongers are eligible to apply for visas to Britain, allowing them to live, work and study there and eventually apply to become British citizens.
Applications for the British National Overseas (BNO) visa officially opened Sunday (Jan. 31), though many have already arrived on British soil to get a head start.
Britain’s government said some 7,000 people with BNO passports have arrived since July on the previously allowed six month visa. It estimates that over 300,000 people will take up the offer of extended residency rights in the next five years.
“Before the announcement of the BN(O) visa in July, we didn’t have many enquiries about UK immigration, maybe less than 10 a month,” said Andrew Lo, founder of Anlex Immigration Consultants in Hong Kong. “Now we receive about 10 to 15 calls a day asking about it.”
Mike, a photojournalist, said he plans to apply for the visa and move to Leeds with his wife and young daughter in April.
Mike said moving to Britain was important as he believed the education system in Hong Kong will be affected by the political situation and it will be better for his daughter to study in the UK
Mike agreed to speak on the condition that he only be identified by his first name out of fear of official retaliation.
Lo said that with the new visa, the barrier to entry to move to the UK becomes extremely low, with no language or education qualification requirements. BNO passport holders need to prove that they have enough money to support themselves for six months and prove that they are clear of tuberculosis, according to the UK government.
Currently, Lo assists three to four families a week in their move to the UK About 60% of those are families with young children, while the remaining are young couples or young professionals.
Cindy, a Hong Kong businesswoman and the mother of two young children, arrived in London last week.
Cindy, who spoke on the condition she only be identified by her first name out of concern of official retaliation, said it was important to move quickly as she feared Beijing would soon move to halt the exodus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week the visa offer shows Britain is honouring its “profound ties of history” with Hong Kong, which was handed over to China on the understanding that it would retain its Western-style freedoms and much of its political autonomy not seen on mainland China.
Beijing said Friday it will no longer recognize the British National Overseas passport as a travel document or form of identification, and criticized Britain’s citizenship offer as a move that “seriously infringed” on China’s sovereignty.
It was unclear what effect the announcement would have because many Hongkongers carry multiple passports. (Source: Mainichi Japan)