Britain opens visa scheme to Hongkongers fleeing oppression in China
Britain on Sunday opened up a new visa scheme to Hongkongers, offering them a path to citizenship and a way out of a city that is increasingly under Beijing’s control.
From 5pm local time, Hongkongers with British National (Overseas) passports and their dependents could apply for a visa that will allow them to live, study and work in Britain for five years.
After that time, they can apply for citizenship. Hongkongers are eligible for BN(O) passports if they were born in the territory before Britain handed it back to China in 1997.
A 38-year-old mother-of-two told public broadcaster RTHK that she would take advantage of the new visa scheme because of her children.
Hong Kong is changing so quickly that core values such as freedom of speech may no longer exist by the time her 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter grow up, said the woman, who was identified as Teresa.
“The environment in Hong Kong … I can’t see they have a future,” she said.
Britain has launched the new visa scheme in response to a harsh national security law that Beijing imposed on the former British colony last June. The law punishes anything Beijing considers to be subversion, secession, terrorism or collision with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
Since then, authorities have disqualified opposition legislators, and police have charged or investigated dozens of activists.
Some high-profile activists have been imprisoned, while others have sought exile abroad, including Britain.
Britain says Beijing has gone back on its promise at the 1997 handover to allow Hong Kong to keep freedoms – not seen in mainland China – for 50 years, and that it has a moral duty to protect its former subjects.
On Sunday, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, China’s Cabinet, said it strongly condemned Britain for violating its promise not to give BN(O) passport holders right of residence.
“The British approach is to try to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into its ‘second-class citizens’, which is a blatant affront to China’s sovereignty. We firmly oppose it,” the office said in a statement.
Beijing and Hong Kong authorities have already said they won’t recognize BN(O) passports as travel or identification documents – although Hongkongers tend to use their own passports or ID cards when leaving the city.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Friday that they reserve the right to take “further actions”.