Saturday 24 July 2021 5:11 am

Exclusive: London Mayor Sadiq Khan welcomes Hongkongers with open arms

London’s City Hall announced this week it plans to free up £900k to help tens of thousands of Hong Kong migrants to settle in the capital this year. The financial package is part of a wider strategy to help those fleeing the political turmoil in Hong Kong set up home in London.

In an exclusive interview, Mayor Sadiq Khan told City A.M. what new arrivals can bring to the capital and shares his take on the current political situation in Hong Kong.

Firstly, the current political situation in Hong Kong is highly volatile and has created uncertainty for many residents in the city state. What do you make of recent developments in Hong Kong?

The national security law has severely cut out the rights and political freedom of Hongkongers. That’s one of the reasons why Hongkongers have applied to come to the UK under the BN(O) visa scheme. The commitment was made in 1984, and basically, I think the “one country, two systems” agreement should be respected by the Chinese government.

It is really important for the UK government to continue applying pressure to the Chinese government to respect the agreement reached in the two countries back in the 1980s.

You said earlier that you expect around a third of Hongkongers who plan to make the UK their home to settle in the capital. What can they bring to London?

I am a prime example of somebody who is a child of immigrants. So we’ve got a track record of supporting people from overseas, and I hope you can be a generation that comes to London and has the potential fulfilled. And the three most important words to say are ‘London is open’.

A message to Hongkongers, this city welcomes you, and we will give you a helping hand to fulfil your potential.

We as a city over successive generations have welcome new arrivals to help them achieve great things in terms of politics, media, law, medicine, science, and so forth. We have a track record of being welcome and giving support. We are also recognised we have a historical commitment to Hongkongers, London is open to you.

According to a recent survey, over two-fifths of Hongkongers plans to start their own business in the UK. How would that help or boost business in London?

I welcome any entrepreneurs coming from Hongkongers. We are, as a city, as a nation with small businesses. More than half of Londoners work for small businesses, and more than 9 per cent of businesses are small businesses.

London’s underlying strength is very good; the time zone, the language, professional services, financial services, culture, tech, and life science.

The city has a large number of top universities and international students. So there’s a pipeline of talent coming through to your business. But also working with banks, we also have ourselves given support financially in relation to capital to help you start up, scale up and accelerate. 

Do you expect any pressure on the job market?

We predict and estimate that between a quarter and a third of those who come to the UK will choose London. By the end of March, the number of applications for visas was around 34,300. We know because of the pandemic, many weren’t coming.

From Monday, Hong Kong will be on the green list, so I have to wait and see how many of those 34,000 will come.

The prediction from the government is between 120,000 and 150,000 in the first year. For those arriving in London, there are job vacancies that Hongkongers could do. Some of our funding is given to community groups and organisations to assist Hongkongers in employment.

Sure, but we are still in an economy that is held back by the pandemic. Do you expect any competition or even friction between Hongkongers and Londoners in the job market?

One of the reasons why I made the announcement is to send a message to businesses and Londoners to make sure we’re welcoming Hongkongers. What must not be is discrimination against Hongkongers who arrive.

The bad news is since last January, since the virus first began, we have seen an increase in xenophobia and hate crimes against Eastern and Southeast Asian Londoners, using phrases like ‘the Chinese virus’ and so forth.

We have got to make sure that there will not be any discrimination against those from Hong Kong. Actually, we have got a good track record as a city of welcoming new arrivals. I’m hopeful and confident those Hongkongers arriving in London will have a warm welcome.

We know that many Hongkongers who plan to come to London are relatively wealthy and generally well educated. Many are expected to buy property here. Do you expect that this may push up property prices across London?

I don’t think we can blame Hongkongers for London property being so expensive. The main reason is the lack of supply to meet demand. So we have to increase the supply of all forms of housing in London to meet demand.

Somebody is very blinkered if they blamed Hongkongers for the current prices of the property in London or a potential increase. 

I also think that probably the market is quite heated. The government has now changed its policy to stamp duty so we’ll have to wait and see the impact of that. I do not expect any additional increase in property prices because of Hongkongers. I have seen no evidence from experts to suggest that would be.

Finally, even though the UK government has taken a fairly generous approach when it set up the BN(O) visa scheme for Hongkongers, those born after 1997 – adults aged between 18 and 24 – do not qualify or the visa. Should the government open up the BN(O) scheme to them as well?

The government is abiding by the agreement reached in 1984, and I support the government’s move concerning those who can come through the BN(O) scheme. And this is not the only way to come to London. There are other ways; to study, to work or to live. The BN(O) scheme is more generous than other visa routes or even those fleeing persecution claiming asylum. It is there for the reason, the agreement reached, and the British government – to give them credit – is abiding by that commitment.