Nearly 5,000 Hong Kong people registered to live, work and study in the UK under the new visa program, opening the path to becoming British citizens.
About half of the 5,000 applications came from Hong Kong residents who were in the UK, the Times reported today.
The British Interior Ministry declined to comment on the leaked information. A ministry spokesman said the data would be released in the coming months.
The visa scheme was announced by the UK last year, after the Chinese central government imposed new national security laws in Hong Kong. The UK accused China of breaking its pledge before handing over Hong Kong in 1997, that the financial center would maintain important freedoms and autonomy for 50 years. London argues they have a moral obligation to protect the people of Hong Kong.
From January 31, anyone holding a UK overseas passport (BNO) and their dependents will be able to apply online to apply for a visa, allowing them to live, study and work in the UK. After 5 years, they can apply for naturalization. Approximately 5.4 million Hong Kong people may qualify for British citizenship under this program.
Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed under the “one country, two regimes” agreement outlined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, by then Chinese Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher co-sign.
China says that British views on Hong Kong are overshadowed by imperial ruins and that the special zone needs national security law to combat damaging unrest. China and Hong Kong announced that they would no longer recognize BNO’s passports as valid travel documents as of January 31. The move is largely symbolic as Hong Kong residents tend to use passports or ID cards to leave the city.
The UK government predicts the new visa could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependents to the UK. Beijing says new visa applicants will become second-class citizens.
BNO passport is a status prescribed by British law since 1987, to Hong Kong residents born before the time the UK handed over the city to China on July 1, 1997. Since January 2021, an estimated 2.9 million Hong Kong people are eligible to own BNO to be able to apply for relocation in the UK, along with their dependents.
Huyen Le (Follow Reuters)