The UK government has unveiled the conditions under which almost three million Hong Kong residents will be able to start on a path to citizenship.
Hong Kong’s British National (Overseas) passport holders and their immediate dependents will have the right to apply for a special UK visa from January, Home Secretary Priti Patel said.
The offer comes after China imposed a sweeping new security law in Hong Kong.
Beijing has previously warned the UK not to meddle in domestic issues.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in May that all British National (Overseas) – or BNO – passport holders “are Chinese nationals” and the move would “violate international law”.
However, Ms Patel said on Wednesday that the offer meant the UK was “keeping our promise” to Hong Kong residents “to uphold their freedoms”.
What are the conditions to get the special visa?
BNO holders already have the right to visit the UK visa-free for six months.
However, this will now allow them to apply for two periods of 30 months’ leave or five years’ leave to remain in the UK, and then eventually become full British citizens.
BNO holders are able to bring immediate dependents, including a spouse who does not have the passport, along with children under the age of 18.
No one born after 1997 is entitled to a BNO passport, and it does not pass down through the generations. However, holders’ children who were born in 1997 or later and are older than 18 will be able to apply if they are part of a family unit.
Read more about Hong Kong’s new security law
Applicants do not have to have a job before arriving in the UK, and there is no minimum salary attached to the visa. However, the passport holders must be able to support themselves financially and will not qualify for benefits.
They will need to have a tuberculosis (TB) test certificate and no serious convictions, though those convicted only of offences related to the recent demonstrations in Hong Kong will still qualify.
They also need to show a commitment to learn English.
Why is the UK offering the special visa?
Hong Kong is a former British colony, which was handed back to China in 1997.
But before Hong Kong was returned, the UK and China made an agreement to introduce “one country, two systems”, which meant, among other things, rights such as freedom of assembly, free speech and freedom of the press would be protected.
The agreement signed in 1984 was set to last until 2047.
But the UK says this agreement – known as the Joint Declaration – is under threat because the territory passed a new law in June that gives China sweeping new controls over the people of Hong Kong.
What is the new security law?
The new, wide ranging law:
- Makes “inciting hatred” of China’s central government and Hong Kong’s regional government illegal
- Allows for closed-door trials, wire-tapping of suspects and the potential for suspects to be tried on the mainland
- Means a wide range of acts, including damaging public transport facilities, can be considered terrorism
- Requires internet providers to hand over data if requested by police
China has said the law is necessary to prevent the type of protests seen in Hong Kong during much of 2019. However, the law has caused alarm both in Hong Kong and abroad, with opponents saying it erodes the territory’s freedoms as a semi-autonomous region of China.