The United Kingdom is opening its doors to three million residents of Hong Kong by relaxing its visa restrictions amid the ongoing political turmoil in the former British territory.
In an opinion piece published in the South China Morning Post on Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK government will consider its immigration rules, thereby giving Hong Kong residents a path to citizenship and residency in the UK.
“Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life – which China pledged to uphold – is under threat. If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away,” Johnson said.
Describing the plan as one of the largest visa regulation adjustments, Johnson said that some 350,000 Hong Kong residents holding a British overseas passport, and 2.5 million others who are eligible to apply for one, could be granted a one-year renewable visa that would allow them to work in the UK.
It would also give passport holders “further immigration rights … which could place them on a route to citizenship”.
Johnson’s piece came amid the ongoing clampdown on pro-democracy activists that started in June 2019 triggered by the Hong Kong government’s introduction of the extradition bill where fugitives will be sent to China for trial.
Hong Kong residents, most whom according to surveys refuse to be classified as “Chinese,” deemed the bill was a threat to the administrative region’s autonomy.
The violent protest between police and the activists prompted the government to withdraw the bill in September, but China’s new proposal to introduce a new security law which is deemed as “highly necessary” and “would safeguard national security in Hong Kong” triggered another round of demonstration.
Since Britain freed Hong Kong in 1997 and was reverted to the Chinese rule, Johnson said imposing the national security law “would be in direct conflict with [China’s] obligations under the Joint Declaration, a legally binding treaty registered with the United Nations.”
He said that China’s proposal would curtail Hong Kong’s freedom and “dramatically erode its autonomy.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat joined forces with his counterparts from New Zealand, Australia, Canada in calling for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to send a special envoy for rule of law and human rights to Hong Kong.
The Foreign Affairs Committee leaders said that China’s proposed national security law in Hong Kong was “a breach” of the deal between Britain and Beijing on Hong Kong.