- In just two months, more than 34,000 Hong Kongers applied for British National (Overseas) entry visas.
- The applications came amid a wave of electoral reforms imposed in the city by the Chinese government.
- The BN(O) visa allows Hong Kongers to live in the UK for five years, then apply to settle there.
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More than 34,000 Hong Kongers applied to leave the city for the UK in February and March amid sweeping electoral reforms that have changed Hong Kong’s political landscape.
Applications for the British National (Overseas) — or BN(O) — entry visa opened on January 31. According to statistics released by the UK Home Office on May 27, the UK received 34,300 applications in two months. Of these applications, 7,200 have been approved.
The surge in interest in this pathway to UK citizenship coincided with the implementation of major changes to the city’s electoral system this March. Under these reforms, the Chinese government requires all Hong Kong government officials to be thoroughly vetted, so leadership roles will be filled only by “patriots” loyal to the Chinese Communist Party.
A report by the Guardian indicated that the application numbers seen for BN(O) applications were around seven times the 5,354 visa applications filed by EU citizens within the same period.
The UK Home Office noted in its report on Thursday that around 60% (or 20,600) of these BN(O) applications it received came from outside the UK. The other 13,700 applications were sent in by Hong Kongers already living in the country.
The BN(O) visa allows Hong Kongers to apply for entry visas to the UK for themselves and their families. Successful applicants can live in the UK for a single period of five years or two separate time frames spanning 30 months each. After the initial five years, BN(O) visa holders can apply to settle in the UK permanently. They will also be given the chance to seek UK citizenship after another 12 months.
More Hong Kongers could apply to leave for the UK in months to come
The South China Morning Post spoke to Willis Fu Yiu-wai, a senior immigration consultant for Goldmax Associates, who said it’s difficult to predict the number of future applications the UK can expect.
“Whether the pace of applications will get faster will depend on whether anything else happens in Hong Kong that drives more people to leave,” Fu told the SCMP.
Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, said in a statement there is no reliable way to predict just how many Hong Kong residents will make the move to the UK in the long term because the current migration numbers may be impacted by COVID-19.
“The levels we are seeing in these data can’t be expected to be representative of future flows – they may be suppressed by the pandemic, or may represent a larger than normal first wave because of pent-up demand,” said Sumption.
According to a report by the BBC, around 72% of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million population — approximately 5.4 million people — are eligible to apply for the scheme.
A report released by the UK Home Office on January 29 estimated that 322,400 Hong Kongers could take the BN(O) path to emigrate to the UK within the next five years. The impact assessment conducted by the UK pegged the number of Hong Kong residents who could be making the move in the first year between 123,000 to 153,700.
In January, China hit back at the UK’s rollout of the BN(O) visa scheme, saying that it would not recognize BN(O) passports as valid travel documents.
“The UK’s move grossly violates China’s sovereignty, interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and runs counter to international law and basic norms governing international relations. China deplores and firmly rejects this,” said Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry on January 29, two days before the UK opened its application portal on January 31.
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