Over 144,000 Hong Kongers have moved to the UK in the two years since the BNO visa scheme was launched

Some 144,500 people have left Hong Kong for the UK in the two years since London launched an immigration scheme for British National (Overseas) passport holders after Beijing enacted national security laws in Hong Kong.

British National (Overseas) passport. File photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Launched on 31 January 2021, the immigration policy allows BNO passport holders and their dependents to live and work in the UK for up to five years, providing them with a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship.

The scheme was expanded last November to cover adults born after July 1, 1997, when the UK handed over its former colony to China, to parents with at least one BNO passport holder. They can apply to settle in the UK on their own.

In a video released on the scheme’s second anniversary, Home Office immigration minister Robert Jenrick said the policy allowed Hong Kongers “to enjoy all the freedoms we enjoy here”.

“We will continue to act to uphold our moral and historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong,” the British minister said, adding that he was “impressed” by the “incredible contribution” Hong Kong people made to the local community and the UK economy. Very proud.”

Jenrick said he has heard and seen stories of BNO visa holders working in public health, education and other industries, as well as volunteering to help fellow immigrants from Ukraine and Afghanistan.

Official figures released by the UK Home Office show that the number of Hong Kongers applying for the BNO immigration route has gradually decreased since its peak of more than 25,000 in the second quarter of 2021. UK authorities received 9,420 new applications between July and September last year.

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The UK’s move, meanwhile, has drawn ongoing criticism from authorities in Hong Kong and mainland China, both of which have said they no longer recognize BNO passports as legal identity or travel documents.

Beijing’s Hong Kong office has called the BNO policy an “immigration trap”, saying the former colonial country is fanning political issues for economic gain and that Hong Kongers would find themselves treated as “second-class citizens” in the UK.

After a year of pro-democracy protests and riots, in June 2020, Beijing bypassed the local legislature and incorporated national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. It criminalizes acts of subversion, secession, collusion with foreign powers and terrorism, defined broadly to include the destruction of transportation and other infrastructure. The move, which gave sweeping new powers to the police, has alarmed Democrats, civil society groups and trading partners, as such laws are widely used in China to suppress and punish dissent. However, authorities say this has restored stability and peace in the city.

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