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Hong Kong residents are fleeing their nation headed for the UK. Britain is introducing a visa system which will enable millions of people from Hong Kong to live and work in the UK from January 31, a date which marks the one year anniversary from when the UK formally left the European Union. Express.co.uk explains why exactly 300,000 Hong Kong migrants are expected to use this new visa and begin new lives in the UK from Sunday.
China passed a controversial national security law in 2020 empowering the nation to take more control over Hong Kong.
The move was made after more than a year of pro-democracy protests took place in the country.
These protests first began in June 2019, after a new extradition bill was proposed which would see suspects in crimes sent to mainland China to face trial.
Critics claimed the move would subject Hong Kong citizens to China’s deeply flawed justice system, adding it would lead to further erosion of the city’s judicial independence.
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In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China from British governance, under the assumption there would be a “one country, two systems” operation in place.
This meant there would be one country, China, but two distinct Chinese regions: China and Hong Kong.
The separation enabled Hong Kong to retain its own economic and administrative systems, outside of Chinese rule.
The UK accused Beijing of breaching the binding deal the nations made in 1997 which would guarantee the city’s way of life until 2047.
In response to the new law, the UK vowed to not “look the other way” and offer British National (Overseas) status to individuals from the region.
From Sunday, January 31, 2021, Hong Kong citizens with BNO status can apply for a special UK visa.
About 300,000 people are expected to leave Hong Kong for Britain using the route.
The visa was announced in July after China imposed the new security law in Hong Kong.
Those who apply and secure the visa will be entitled to apply for settlement after five years and after a further 12 months, they will be able to apply for British citizenship.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the move honoured the UK’s “profound ties of history and friendship” with the ex-British colony.
About 7,000 people from Hong Kong have already been allowed to settle in the UK since July, the Home Office said.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We have been clear that we will not look the other way when it comes to Hong Kong people with British National (Overseas) status who now have a choice to come and live and work and study in the UK.
“And it remains the case that BNOs and their families can use documentation other than BNO passports to travel and enter the UK.”
An estimated 5.4 million Hong Kong residents will be eligible for the scheme according to the British Government, which is around 72 percent of the entire population of Hong Kong.
The residents from Hong Kong are likely to include 2.9 million British Nationals (Overseas) and 2.3 million dependents of BNOs.
In addition, 187,000 people aged 18 to 23 with at least one BNO parent are likely eligible for migration to the UK.
The Government admits it is difficult to estimate how many people will take up the scheme, but the estimates around 300,000 will arrive in the first five years.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily briefing the “attempt to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens” had “completely changed the nature of the two sides’ original understanding of BNO”.
He added: “This move seriously infringes on China’s sovereignty, grossly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and seriously violates international law and the basic norms of international relations.”
A statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “Apart from serving its political agenda, the move of the British side will also bring huge economic interests to the country.
“While the UK may be in dire need of talents and capital, it should not have made use of the BNO passport as a ‘political cover-up’.”
Beijing has also said BNO passports will not be accepted as a proof of identity.
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