The UK is ready to welcome tens of thousands of migrants from Hong Kong, with the opening of a new visa for residents of the former British colony this Sunday, according to a report by the BBC.
The report comes after China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong that ended the city’s autonomy, civil and social freedoms, and solidified Beijing’s authoritarian rule over the territory.
The rule has brought about the arrest of hundreds of activists and has made the US restrict it’s business with Hong Kong, saying the economy of the former British colony is now being controlled by China.
The law criminalizes secession, ‘subversion and collusion with foreign forces’, and carries with it a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
After the law was enacted, the UK government announced it would provide a new path to citizenship for holders of British National (Overseas) passports, which were introduced in the final years of British rule over Hong Kong, enabling residents to hold onto a degree of British citizenship.
Under the new citizenship program by the UK, those with BN(O) status and their eligible family members will be able to travel to the UK to live, study and work, becoming eligible for settlement in the UK in five years, and citizenship 12 months after that.
In a statement Friday, January 29, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said by taking this move, “we have honored our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy — values both the UK and Hong Kong hold dear.”
Since July 2019, when anti-government protests broke out across the city, over 400,000 BN(O) passports have been issued to Hong Kong residents, according to data from the UK Home Office.
At the time the national security law was proposed, the number of passports issued jumped from 7,515 in June 2020, to over 24,000 in July.
Before the UK announced the new path to citizenship, there were around 350,000 BN(O) passport holders, but the number of people who are eligible those born before 1997, in British-ruled Hong Kong — could be as high as 3 million.
In a press conference Friday, China claims the plan breaches the agreement under which Hong Kong was handed over from British to Chinese rule
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian accused the UK of “disregarding the fact that Hong Kong has returned to the motherland for 24 years” and violating promises made at the time of handover.
He said the BN(O) path to citizenship “seriously violates China’s sovereignty, grossly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and seriously violates international law and basic norms of international relations.”
From January 31, Zhao said, China will no longer recognize BN(O) passports as travel documents or identification proof, “and reserves the right to take further measures.”