The government has today widened the parameters of its visa scheme for Hong Kong residents who wish to leave the city, following calls saying it had abandoned younger citizens.
The British National (Overseas) immigration route was introduced last year to help resettle Hong Kong citizens in the UK, after Beijing’s crackdown on the former British colony.
From today, the resettlement scheme will be available to those born after 1997, the year the UK handed the country over the China, offering an opportunity to younger residents looking to leave China.
“This important change will allow many vulnerable young Hongkongers, previously ineligible to the scheme, to come to the UK to seek safety,” said Jane Song, a spokesperson for campaign group Stand With Hong Kong.
“Previously, many young Hongkongers who were not eligible for the BN(O) visa were languishing in the UK’s asylum system, unable to work or study. This major change of policy not only offers young Hongkongers safe refuge, but it will also allow them to settle quicker and let their talents enrich British society.”
The government estimated last year that around 5.4m Hong Kong residents were eligible for the scheme, around 75 per cent of the city’s population.
Hailed as a “lifeboat” for many in the global financial hub, City A.M. spoke to Hong Kong residents fleeing the city last year, who were calling for the US to form a similar programme for “those youngsters who were born after 1997”.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) has also welcomed the decision, as China’s so-called ‘zero-Covid’ policy continues to curtail growth in the city.
“The government’s BN(O) programme has been a lifeline for Hong Kongers escaping Beijing’s mounting tyranny and a hallmark of Britain’s commitment to human rights,” APPG vice chair Lord Alton of Liverpool said.
“However, the failure to initially include young Hong Kongers born after 1997 unless accompanied by an older relative was a glaring inadequacy.
“Young Hong Kongers made up the bulk of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and were therefore most vulnerable to the Chinese Communist Party’s retribution and in the most urgent need of our support.”