The United Kingdom has unveiled the details of its plan to offer an estimated three million people in Hong Kong a route to citizenship in an offer Home Secretary Priti Patel described as “very generous” and China condemned as a breach of international law and interference in its internal affairs.
In a briefing paper released on Wednesday, Patel said people with British National (Overseas) or BNO status, a type of nationality created when Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, would be able to apply for the programme from January next year.
They will not have to meet skills tests or minimum income requirements and can bring their dependents, including those who do not have BNO status.
Patel said BNO status “recognised the special and enduring ties the UK has with those people as a result of our role in Hong Kong before 1997”.
Referring to China’s imposition of a new National Security Law on Hong Kong at the start of the month, she added: “Now that China, through its actions, has changed the circumstances that BN(O) citizens find themselves in, it is right that we change the entitlements which are attached to BN(O) status.”
The paper triggered a swift condemnation from China’s embassy in London, which said the move amounted to interference in China’s internal affairs and that it would demand effective countermeasures.
“The Chinese side urges the UK side to recognize the fact that Hong Kong is part of China, have a right and objective understanding on the National Security Law for Hong Kong, immediately correct its mistakes and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs, which are China’s internal affairs,” an embassy spokesperson said in a statement posted on the embassy’s website. “Such interference will shoot itself in the foot.”
Hong Kong was a British colony for more than 100 years until it was returned to Chinese rule under the so-called “one country, two systems” framework, which afforded the territory substantial autonomy and guaranteeing the people of the territory rights and freedoms unknown on the mainland for at least 50 years.
The UK has said the security law contravenes the promises that were laid out in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984.
The policy statement said the changes to migration for people from Hong Kong were a reflection of the “unprecedented circumstances” in the territory, and Britain’s “unique obligations” to those with BN(O) status.
Those who apply will get a visa for five years, after which, providing they have supported themselves financially and not committed any crimes, they can apply for permanent residence and, after a further year, citizenship. They will not need to meet any income requirements, have a job prior to arrival or seek additional permissions to work or study.
However, they will still have to pay for the visa – the fee has still to be decided – as well as all subsequent applications for settlement and citizenship, and will not be eligible for any social security payments.
The policy statement said it was also open to accepting those needing to travel before January.