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Biden offers ‘safe haven’ to Hong Kong residents in US after China crackdown

The vast majority of Hong Kong residents currently in the United States are expected to be eligible, according to a senior administration official, but some legal conditions apply, such as individuals not having been convicted of felonies.

By: Reuters | Washington |
August 6, 2021 10:17:03 am
The White House said in a statement the move made clear the United States "will not stand idly by as the PRC breaks its promises to Hong Kong and to the international community. (File)

President Joe Biden on Thursday offered temporary “safe haven” to Hong Kong residents in the United States, allowing what could be thousands of people to extend their stay in the country in response to Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in the Chinese territory.

In a signed memo, Biden directed the Department of Homeland Security to implement a “deferral of removal” for up to 18 months for Hong Kong residents currently in the United States, citing “compelling foreign policy reasons”.”Over the last year, the PRC has continued its assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, undermining its remaining democratic processes and institutions, imposing limits on academic freedom, and cracking down on freedom of the press,” Biden said in the memo, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.

“Offering safe haven for Hong Kong residents who have been deprived of their guaranteed freedoms in Hong Kong furthers United States interests in the region. The United States will not waver in our support of people in Hong Kong,” Biden said.

The vast majority of Hong Kong residents currently in the United States are expected to be eligible, according to a senior administration official, but some legal conditions apply, such as individuals not having been convicted of felonies.

The White House said in a statement the move made clear the United States “will not stand idly by as the PRC breaks its promises to Hong Kong and to the international community.

“Those eligible may also seek employment authorization, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

The measure is the latest in a series of actions Biden has taken to address what his administration says is the erosion of rule of law in the former British colony, which returned to Beijing’s control in 1997.The U.S. government in July applied more sanctions on Chinese officials in Hong Kong, and issued an updated business advisory warning companies of risks of operating under the national security law, which China implemented last year to
criminalize what it considers subversion, secessionism, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces.

Critics say the law facilitates a crackdown on pro-democracy activists and a free press in the territory, after Beijing agreed to allow considerable political autonomy for 50 years.

China retaliated against the US actions last month with its own sanctions on American individuals, including former US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross.

China’s embassy in Washington did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the safe haven measure.

‘BIG-HEARTED DECISION’

US lawmakers have sought legislation that would make it easier for people from Hong Kong to obtain U.S. refugee status if they feared persecution after joining protests against China. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the United States should accept people fleeing the Hong Kong crackdown.

“The PRC has fundamentally altered the bedrock of Hong Kong’s institutions,” Blinken said in a statement, noting that Chinese and Hong Kong authorities had arbitrarily delayed scheduled elections, disqualified lawmakers, undermined press freedom, and arrested more than 10,000 people.

Blinken added the United States was joining allies to offer the protection, in keeping with the Biden administration’s push to counter China in concert with likeminded partners.

Britain’s foreign minister Dominic Raab on Twitter welcomed the “big-hearted decision,” and said the U.K. was offering British Nationals (Overseas) in Hong Kong a path to citizenship.

Other countries, including Canada and Australia, have taken steps to facilitate Hong Kong immigration or permanent residency following Beijing’s crackdown.

The Biden administration’s move falls under the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) program, which does not offer a pathway to citizenship, but can be renewed indefinitely by a president.

In 2019, Congress created a path to citizenship for thousands of Liberians covered by the DED program due to armed conflict in that country, which immigration experts called the first legislation of its kind in nearly two decades.

Biden’s administration has granted deportation relief under a similar program known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to about 500,000 Venezuelans and Haitians living in the United States, as well as thousands of people from Myanmar, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse called the safe haven move a “solid step”, but said the U.S. government needed to go further.

“We need to offer full asylum to Hong Kongers who flee Chairman Xi’s brutal oppression,” Sasse said in a statement, referring to China’s leader Xi Jinping.

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