More than 34,000 Hong Kong citizens have applied in 2021 for bespoke UK visas that were launched last year in the wake of Beijing’s democracy crackdown.
New data from the Home Office out today showed that the government had approved just 5,600 of these applications so far.
The visas were announced by foreign secretary Dominic Raab last year in response to China’s imposition of draconian national security laws on Hong Kong.
The laws effectively made it illegal to criticise the Chinese government and came as a wider crackdown on democracy for Hong Kongers that has seen opposition parties banned from holding office.
Chinese security agencies were also set up in Hong Kong during 2020 for the first ever time.
The UK last year accused China on multiple occasions of breaking the Sino-British treaty, signed when Hong Kong was handed over to Beijing, that enshrined the “one conutry two systems” rule.
The almost 3m Hong Kongers who hold British National (Overseas) status and their dependents are elgible to apply for the bespoke visas, which provide a route to permanent residency.
New Home Office figures showed that of the 34,300 applications for the Hong Kong visa in this year’s first quarter, 20,600 of them were done overseas and 13,700 were done from inside the UK.
The figures also showed that 86 per cent of all UK visa approvals this year have been to Hong Kongers applying through the British National (Overseas) scheme.
It comes as HSBC and Citibank have recently been warned by Hong Kong authorities to not take any business from billionaire and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai.
Banks have been under pressure to do things like freeze assets of activists in Hong Kong over the past year, with HSBC coming under fire for complying with the state’s orders and supporting the national security legislation.
HSBC chief Noel Quinn told MPs earlier this year that the laws were needed to “stablise” the region in 2020 and said there was no situation in which he would pull HSBC out of Hong Kong.