UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said up to three million Hong Kong residents would be offered the chance to settle in the UK and ultimately apply for citizenship, as China imposes a new national security law on the territory.
Hong Kong’s freedoms were being violated by a new security law and those affected would be offered a “route” out of the former UK colony, said Johnson.
The new security law broadens Beijing’s powers to investigate and prosecute citizens of Hong Kong, and criminalizes the acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers.
About 350,000 UK passport holders, and 2.6 million others eligible, will be able to come to the UK for five years.
And after a further year, they will be able to apply for citizenship.
British National Overseas Passport holders in Hong Kong were granted special status in the 1980s but currently have restricted rights and are only entitled to visa-free access to the UK for six months.
Under the government’s plans, all British Overseas Nationals and their dependants will be given right to remain in the UK, including the right to work and study, for five years. At this point, they will be able to apply for settled status, and after a further year, seek citizenship.
The PM said Tuesday’s passing of a new security law by the Hong Kong authorities was a “clear and serious breach” of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration – a legally binding agreement which set out how certain freedoms would be protected for the 50 years after China assumed sovereignty in 1997.
“It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration,” he said.
Foreign Office permanent secretary Sir Simon McDonald expressed the government’s “deep concern” about the new law to China during a meeting with the country’s ambassador Liu Xioming.
Updating MPs on the details, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there would be no limit on numbers or quotas and the application process would be simple.
“This is a special, bespoke, set of arrangements developed for the unique circumstances we face and in light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong,” he said.
Downing Street said further details of the scheme will be detailed “in due course”.
In the meantime, British National Overseas Passport holders in Hong Kong will be able to travel to the UK immediately, subject to standard immigration checks, the prime minister’s official spokesman said.
They also will not face salary thresholds to gain their visas, he added.
Hong Kong’s new national security law, which targets secession, subversion and terrorism with punishments up to life in prison, came into effect on Tuesday.
Several people have already been arrested under the new powers, including a man carrying a pro-independence flag as police used pepper spray to disperse some protesters gathered to mark 23 years since British rule ended.
Critics say it effectively puts an end to the “one country, two systems” principle enshrined in the Joint Declaration. China has rejected criticism of its actions, saying they are internal matters. (Source: BBC)