Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested that he may push through one of the “biggest changes in our visa system in British history”, potentially opening the door to UK citizenship for nearly three million Hong Kong residents.
The announcement comes as China looks to tighten its control over the Special Administrative Region (which was a British colony until 1997, and is now the most expensive city in the world, bringing the financial and business hub into closer alignment with Beijing’s authoritarian rule – and removing many freedoms for citizens.
New visa rules could drive an influx of new demand for homes in London and other major UK cities. Currently, around 350,000 Hong Kongers hold British National (Overseas) passports, which allow visa-free access to the UK for up to six months, and another 2.5 million are eligible to apply for them.
We had reports of rising demand from Hong Kong for prime properties in London last year, when protests against escalating Chinese rule shut down large parts of the city.
“Britain would have no choice but to uphold our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong,” said Johnson today. “If China imposes its national security law, the British government will change our 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 could place them on a route to citizenship.
“This would amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history. If it proves necessary, the British government will take this step and take it willingly.
“Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life, which China pledged to uphold, is under threat. If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative.”
“Let me be clear about the approach that the United Kingdom intends to take,” said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. “We do not oppose Hong Kong passing its own national security law. We do strongly oppose such an authoritarian law being imposed by China, in breach of international law.”
Raab says that he would expect “a large number” of Hong Kongers – potentially hundreds of thousands – to take up the UK visa offer, if it goes ahead. “A large number would probably want to stay,” he said today; “others may go to countries in the region.”