Mixed reaction from HK expats to UK visas offer

LONDON, July 12, 2020 (AFP) - Hong Kong expatriates living in Britain have welcomed London’s pledge of “a pathway to future citizenship” for millions of the territory’s residents after China imposed a controversial security law there.

But they warned this “message of hope” would not help many, including those born after Hong Kong’s 1997 return to Chinese rule and now aged over 18 — people at the forefront of protests against Beijing.

“It is helpful — it sends a strong message of hope to Hong Kongers, many of whom are waiting to be rescued from their city,” a 35-year-old financial analyst living in London since 2005, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP.

With relatives still in Hong Kong, he is very worried about their fate, especially those of university age.

“These guys won’t be helped directly by this but they are the ones who are more vulnerable — they stopped their university degrees to join the movement,” he added, referring to pro-democracy protests that erupted last year.

Beijing enacted the sweeping security law for the restless city of around 7.5 million people on June 30, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

The move has sparked international condemnation.

The UK has said in response it will allow anyone with British National (Overseas) (BNO) status and their dependants — husbands, wives, civil partners and children under 18 years old — to come to Britain.

They will be able to remain and work for five years, compared to the current limit of six months, before being able to apply for citizenship.

More than 350,000 people currently have BNO passports, and the government estimates there are around 2.9 million eligible for the status in total in Hong Kong.

“This proposal will definitely help some of the people who fear for their life — at least they have somewhere safe to go,” said Abby Yau, 40, a naturalised British citizen after 19 years in the UK.

“But at the same time I wonder how much it will benefit the majority of the people who are oppressed by the (Chinese) government.”

Britain created the BNO status ahead of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover, allowing its residents to apply for a form of British nationality and a BNO passport.

But it conferred no automatic right to citizenship, could only be applied for before the end of 1997 and cannot be passed on to future generations.

Critics of Britain’s proposed changes note they still fail to help swathes of people who missed out on that opportunity.