By Dewi Morris | Political Editor
Holders of the visa can work, study, and live in the UK, apply for UK settlement after five years and for UK citizenship a year later. The scheme is seen as the UK’s reaction to China’s crackdown on the ex-colony.
China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, confirmed that China would not recognise the BNO status as a travel document, as he claims the UK’s scheme aims to “turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens.”
He warns: “This move seriously infringes on China’s sovereignty, grossly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and seriously violates international law and the basic norms of international relations.”
While China refuses to recognise the BNO passport, this is but a symbolic retaliation as Hong Kong residents only need BNO status rather than an actual passport to apply for the visa. Residents use a Hong Kong passport to enter or leave the region.
Boris Johnson has said:
“I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BNOs to live, work and make their home in our country.
“In doing so we have honoured our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy – values both the UK and Hong Kong hold dear.”
Why has China cracked down?
In 2019 Hong Kong was shaken by months of mass pro-democracy protests which began in response to China’s extradition law, meaning residents would be sent to China to face trials.
Despite the law being dropped fierce protests continued against Chinese interference in the semi-autonomous region. When Hong Kong was handed back to China, ending British rule, part of the agreement was that capitalism would remain in the region until 2047, under the ‘one country two systems’ rule.
Last summer, China introduced a new security law in Hong Kong which makes criticism of China a crime. Undermining the authority of the central government is seen as subversion and is therefore punishable by a maximum of life imprisonment. Critically, the law states that Beijing will hold power as to how it is interpreted rather than a judicial body in Hong Kong.
The UK responded by suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, meaning Hong Kong cannot ask the UK to return an individual suspected of a crime there. Similarly, the US ended preferential economic treatment in the region in an act Donald Trump said aims to “hold China accountable for its oppressive actions” and to hold responsible those “involved in extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom.”
The new special visa is a response to what Britain sees as China breaking its promise to allow autonomy in the region as part of the agreement known as the Joint Declaration. Priti Patel, the UK’s Home Secretary, said that the scheme is “one of its kind… it’s a bespoke visa route to provide freedoms, safety, security.”
Residents of Hong Kong can apply for the visa over a new app after fears they may be targeted by Chinese authorities if they travel to a visa application centre.
The visa is open to anyone with a BNO status registered before July 1997 (when Hong Kong was handed back to China) and includes partners, children, and dependent relatives. 5.2 million people are therefore eligible. However, the UK expects 300,000 people to migrate.