June 3, 2020 7:57:24 pm
The UK may offer British National (Overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong a path to live and work in the UK soon. A press release issued by the UK government on May 29 said that if China follows through with its new national security law, the government will explore options to allow BN(O)s to apply for leave to stay in the UK, for an extendable period of up to 12 months if eligible. Currently, Hong Kong citizens with BN(O)s have the right to enter the UK for six months as a visitor.
As of February 24, there are over 350,000 holders of BN(O) passports and over 2.9 million BN(O)s currently in Hong Kong. UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in an article published in The Times, “Britain would have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong”.
He added, “If China imposes its national security law, the British government will change its immigration rules and allow any holder of these passports from Hong Kong to come to the UK for a renewable period of 12 months and be given further immigration rights including the right to work which would place them on the route to citizenship.”
Last week, the Chinese legislature approved a national security law that proposes to ban seditious activities targeting mainland Chinese rule. Under this law, Hong Kong could be brought under the full control of mainland Chinese rule.
Hong Kong’s “Basic Law”
Hong Kong, which was a former British colony, was handed over to China in 1997 when it became one of its Special Administrative Regions. It is governed by a mini-constitution called the Basic Law — which affirms the principle of “one country, two systems”.
The constitutional document is a product of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, under which China promised to honour Hong Kong’s liberal policies, a system of governance, an independent judiciary, and individual freedoms for a period of 50 years from 1997.
What is the British National Overseas Passport?
According to an article in The South China Morning Post, the BN(O) was first issued in 1987, 10 years before the return of sovereignty over Hong Kong from Britain to China. The document replaced the British Dependent Territories citizens’ passport. Anyone who was a British overseas territories citizen by connection with Hong Kong was able to register as a British national (overseas) before July 1, 1997.
Further, British overseas territories citizens from Hong Kong who did not register as British nationals (overseas) and had no other nationality or citizenship on June 30, 1997, became British overseas citizens on July 1, 1997. Essentially, these passports are issued to those born in Hong Kong before the 1997 handover and as per the current rules, BN(O) passport holders can visit the UK for a period of six months without a visa. Even so, such individuals are subject to immigration controls and do not have the automatic right to live or work in the UK and are not considered a UK national.
Significantly, those who are not already BN(O)s cannot apply to become one, but can hold a British passport and get consular assistance and protection from UK diplomatic posts.
So what has the UK government said now?
Now, following recent developments, the UK government has said that Hong Kong citizens who hold BN(O) passports will be able to obtain British citizenship in case China goes ahead with its controversial national security law.
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According to a BBC report, what the UK government has proposed now extends to anyone in Hong Kong who already has a BN(O) status. They can spend 12 months in the UK without a visa as long as they applied for and were granted a BN(O) passport, a move that affects over 2.9 million Hong Kong residents.
Last week, in a joint statement, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne, and US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said, “Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom. The international community has a significant and long-standing stake in Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability. Direct imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong by the Beijing authorities, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions as provided for under Article 23 of the Basic Law, would curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties, and in doing so, dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous.”
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