London: At least 7,000 residents of Hong Kong have left for the United Kingdom since the announcement of China regarding the imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong.
According to the Associated Press, the British government is expecting further 300, 000 Hong Kongers to seek extended residency rights over the next five years.
The UK on Sunday opened the new visa scheme for the residents of Hong Kong a day after China announced that it would no longer recognize the Hong Kongers’ British National Overseas (BNO) passports as a valid travel document or proof of identity.
BNO status was granted to those living in Hong Kong before the British government handed its colony back to China in 1997.
Under the new visa scheme, the residents of Hong Kong possessing BNO status and their dependents would be eligible to stay in the UK for five years for work or study. After completion of five years, the BNO status holders would be allowed to apply for ‘settled status’, and after an additional year, they would be granted citizenship.
Some residents of Hong Kong who have BNO status told the Associated Press that they were leaving because of the fear of punishment over supporting the pro-democracy protest movement. The movement has greatly suffered due to arrest and imprisonment of several prominent figures.
They further said that China’s erosion had become unbearable for them and that they wanted a better future of their children, adding that they would not return.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian this Friday during a news briefing said that the republic would no longer recognize the BNO as a proof of identity or valid document for travel.
China’s announcement came amid intensified tensions with the UK over its plan to offer millions of Hong Kong residents a path to residency and subsequent citizenship.
The British government is also set to begin accepting applications from BNO status holders. BNO passport holders have been using the document for decades, however, the pressure for the UK has increased to expand the rights of its holders following draconian national security law imposed by China.
The Associated Press estimated that some 5.4 million Hong Kongers could be eligible for the said scheme. It added that as a protection layer of personal privacy, the Hong Kong residents could install a specific cellphone app to download their biometric information without visiting the British visa office. On Friday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a statement said that he was proud that they had brought in this new route for BNOs to live, work and make their home in their country.
Meanwhile, the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) strongly condemned the UK’s announcement about new visa policy for Hong Kong residents who are holders of BNO passport.
The HKSAR opposed the British government and said that it violated international commitments by offering a new policy to BNO passport holders.
The said Office issued a press statement which said that the British government had breached trust and violated the Sino-British agreement on Hong Kong and manipulated the BNO under the pretext of security law, imposed by China.
The press statement further said that the British government completely changed the original nature of BNO by repeatedly expanding its scope of application.
The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China State Council on Sunday also issued a statement and condemned the UK decision. The statement said that the UK betrayed the trust by further expanding the scope, adding that this was a blatant affront to China sovereignty.