LONDON (UK) – Following China’s crackdown in Hong Kong, UK has opened up the opportunity for Hong Kong residents to apply for a new visa from Sunday , giving them the chance to become British citizens. Beijing, however, has said that it will no longer recognise the special British passport already in use and thatit would make them second-class citizens.
The new visa could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependents to Britain, according to UK government.
Britain and China have been arguing for months about what London and Washington say is an attempt to silence dissent in Hong Kong after huge pro-democracy protests in 2019 and 2020.
According to British authorities it is fulfilling a historic and moral commitment to the people of Hong Kong after Beijing imposed a new security law on the semi-autonomous city that Britain says breaches the terms of agreements under which the colony was handed back to China in 1997.
“I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BN(O)s to live, work and make their home in our country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, referring to a special British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders.
However, China and the Hong Kong government says they would no longer recognise the BNO passport as a valid travel document from Sunday, Jan. 31.
“Britain is trying to turn large numbers of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens. This has completely changed the original nature of BNO,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a briefing.
Beijing’s imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong in June last year prompted Britain to offer refuge to almost 3 million Hong Kong residents eligible for the BNO passport from Jan. 31.
The scheme, first announced last year, opens on Sunday and allows those with British National (Overseas) status to live, study and work in Britain for five years and eventually apply for citizenship.
BN(O) is a special status created under British law in 1987 that specifically relates to Hong Kong.
Britain’s foreign ministry said it was disappointed but not surprised by Beijing’s decision not to recognise the BNO passport.
The 250 pound ($340) visa could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependents to Britain and generate up to 2.9 billion pounds of net benefit to the British economy over the next five years, according to government forecasts.
It is yet to be seen as to how many people will actually take up the offer.