The UK government has offered a route to British citizenship for nearly three million people living in Hong Kong following the imposition of controversial new security laws by China.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the citizenship offer as he described the new legislation as a “clear and serious breach” of the deal that saw Hong Kong pass back to China from Britain in 1997.
There are fears that the new Chinese law will undermine Hong Kong’s freedom, and is aimed at quashing defiance against the mainland.
In an early sign of what could become the norm, a man carrying a flag that called for independence is among those to have already been arrested under the new law.
Who is being offered a route to UK citizenship?
The UK government is now offering a “bespoke” immigration route for those holding British National (Overseas) status and their dependents.
Someone who was a British overseas territories citizen by connection with Hong Kong was able to register as a British national (overseas) before 1 July 1997.
British overseas territories citizens from Hong Kong who did not register as British nationals (overseas) and had no other nationality or citizenship on 30 June 1997 became British overseas citizens on 1 July 1997.
Under current rules, BNOs can hold a British passport and get consular assistance and protection from UK embassies.
However, they are subject to immigration controls and do not have the automatic right to live or work in the UK.
What are BNOs being offered now?
Under the bespoke scheme, BNOs are being granted five years’ limited leave to remain in the UK, with the right to work or study.
After those five years they will be able to apply for settled status and, after a further 12 months with settled status, they will be able to apply for citizenship.
How many BNOs might apply?
As of February, there were nearly 350,000 BNO passport holders, while the UK government estimates there are around 2.9 million BNOs living in Hong Kong.
The government has said all those with BNO status will be eligible for the bespoke scheme, as will their family dependants who are usually resident in Hong Kong
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs there will be “no quotas on numbers” for the scheme.
The Home Office will put in place a “simple, streamlined, application process”, he added.
Downing Street has said BNOs will be eligible to travel to the UK immediately ahead of the details of the scheme being finalised “in the coming weeks” and that they will not face salary thresholds.
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