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China’s stance on UK visas for Hong Kongers draws criticism

Around 172,500 Hong Kongers have applied for British National Overseas (BNO) visa until March this year

A Hong Kong resident holds the British National Overseas (BNO) passport in this file

A Hong Kong resident holds the British National Overseas (BNO) passport in this file photo: (AFP)

Published: August 19, 2023 05:42 AM GMT

Updated: August 21, 2023 05:13 AM GMT

A rights watchdog and an international parliamentary group have slammed China for criticizing the UK government for a new visa scheme to allow dissidents from Hong Kong to emigrate faster.

Benedict Rogers, chief executive of London-based Hong Kong Watch, dismissed the Chinese Embassy’s recent comments on fast-track UK visas for Hong Kongers as “aggressive and mendacious,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Aug. 17.

“This latest new measure is a further very welcome effort to help Hong Kongers who need to get out quickly,” the report quoted Rogers as saying.

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“No amount of completely disproportionate fury from [China’s] ‘wolf warrior’ diplomats will change that,” Rogers added.

In an Aug. 16 press statement, Rogers welcomed the move from the UK government to enable British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders to avail of a “priority service” providing application results within five working days.

“This will ensure those who urgently need to leave the city, have an expedited pathway out,” Rogers said.

He termed the visa scheme as the “right step” in response to a crackdown on dissidents in Hong Kong, adding that more needs to be done to offer a further “lifeboat” to those Hong Kongers who are ineligible for the BNO visa.

The UK government on Aug. 14 had announced the new scheme saying that “it continues the UK’s unwavering commitment to the people of Hong Kong.”

The scheme offers a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship to millions of Hong Kongers since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) began a political crackdown in the city after imposing a draconian National Security Law in 2020.

Until March this year, the UK government has received around 172,500 applications for the BNO visa, media reports say.

In retaliation, the Chinese Embassy in London issued a statement on Aug. 15 accusing the UK government of “manipulation” through its immigration policy.

“China has all along been opposed to the UK’s manipulation of the BNO visa scheme, which interferes in Hong Kong-related affairs and China’s internal affairs,” an embassy spokesperson said in the statement.

“We urge the UK to ... stop staging its hypocritical shows, stop misleading people from Hong Kong and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs,” it added.

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing administration has recently amended its immigration law enabling security chiefs to bar passengers from taking any form of transport in or out of the city.

Rights groups expressed concerns over the move, saying it could be exploited to prevent people from leaving the politically troubled former British colony.

Luke de Pulford, executive director of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China said that the UK administration's recent move could be in retaliation to Hong Kong’s restrictions on its citizens.

“It could be the UK government has realized the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government may be moving to try to prevent people from traveling,” Pulford told RFA.

“We don’t know that, but there might be more to it than meets the eye, and we should all be on our guard,” Pulford warned.

Pulford welcomed the new visa scheme and pointed out that many Hong Kongers have faced “long and extremely inconvenient delays” imposed upon them and have also faced visa issues after leaving Hong Kong.

Many Hong Kongers have “come to the UK and have found themselves in limbo while they've been waiting for their visa,” Pulford told RFA.

“But the fact this has been opened now when the applications to the visa scheme are slowing down may indicate that something is wrong,” Pulford said.

The Chinese spokesperson had called those who had left for the UK from Hong Kong “deluded” and alleged that the fast-track visa option was aimed at “smearing and disrupting Hong Kong.”

“Some deluded people left their home in Hong Kong and came to the UK only to find themselves facing a hard life full of discrimination,” the spokesperson said.

However, Chung Kim-wah, a former Hong Kong sociologist now living in the UK pointed out that allegations were part of a broader attempt by Beijing to curb mass emigration from the city.

“[Local media] have reported claims from time to time that Hong Kongers are living in misery here, or are discriminated against. However, these statements aren’t new,” Chung said

Chung pointed out that there were occasional complaints about finding employment in the UK and settling down, but there was no regret among Hong Kongers who chose to move.

Last year, 113,000 Hong Kongers left for other countries, prompting pro-Beijing media to ask the Chinese regime to swiftly act “to stem the brain drain.”

The Hong Kong administration has been handing out free plane tickets to visitors and offering work visas to attract professionals to replace those who have left.

The city’s population saw a sudden uptick in the year to the end of June, rising by 2.1 percent due to an influx of returning residents and job seekers under schemes aimed at attracting new talents.


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