Shortly after the proposal, the British government announced that it would provide a new pathway to obtain British citizenship for holders of British (foreign) passports, which were introduced in the final years of British rule of Hong Kong, allowing residents to maintain some form of British citizenship. Status, albeit without any long-term right of abode in the UK.
With the new program, status holders and their family members will be able to choose the UK to live, study and work, becoming eligible for citizenship within 12 months. In a statement, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the selection “honors our deep ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and the defense of their freedom and independence, which are values dear to both the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.”
Over 400,000 billion passports have been issued to Hong Kong residents since July 2019, when anti-government protests erupted across the city, according to data from the UK Home Office, more than the total in the past 15 years.
At the time the National Security Act was proposed, the number of passports issued jumped from 7,515 in June 2020 to more than 24,000 in July. The numbers may be lower than the number of people who have applied, as the pandemic appears to have had an impact on passport processing.
Before the United Kingdom announced the new path to citizenship, there were about 350,000 BN (O) passport holders, but the number of eligible people – those born before 1997, in British-ruled Hong Kong – could rise to 3 million. .
China reacted angrily to the plan, claiming that it violated the agreement under which Hong Kong was handed over from British rule to Chinese rule, while London responded by saying the move was undermined by the National Security Act.
During a press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused the UK of “not taking into account the fact that Hong Kong has returned to the motherland for 24 years now”, violating promises made at the time of delivery. The Road to Citizenship “blatantly violates Chinese sovereignty, blatantly interferes in Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs, and flagrantly violates international law and the basic norms of international relations.”
Zhao said that from January 31, China will no longer recognize BN (O) passports as travel or identity documents, and “reserves the right to take further measures.” A few hours later, the Hong Kong government announced through a press release that BN (O) passports had been removed from the list of accepted travel documents.
It is unclear what practical effects these countermeasures will have, however, as most Hong Kong residents, both foreign and Chinese, use domestically issued identity cards to enter or leave the territory. Many people who qualify for a BN (O) passport also have the right to apply for a Hong Kong passport or may already have them. Given the limited consequences of Beijing’s response, many believe that more restrictions may be on the way, especially if large numbers of people leave the city in the coming months.
According to the South China Morning Post, Beijing is considering denying BN (O) passport holders the right to hold public office and the right to vote. “The Chinese from Hong Kong who acquire a foreign nationality of their own free will will be treated as having lost their Chinese nationality, in strict accordance with Article 9. When they make the decision to leave and implicitly relinquish Hong Kong, it is correct to ask them to choose between China or a foreign country: In the case The second will lose their citizenship, the right to reside and vote. “
Despite the threats, experts estimate that as many as 600,000 Hong Kong residents could move to the UK within the first three years, further increasing due to the continuing crackdowns under the National Security Act. But BN (O) holders may not be the only ones to leave: in the 1997 handover period, many Hong Kong residents acquired foreign citizenship, particularly in Commonwealth countries such as Canada and Australia, where both had generous immigration policies.
Pro-democracy activists and protesters without foreign citizenship have also begun to seek asylum abroad in greater numbers, particularly in the wake of last year’s crackdown on those who participated in the 2019 unrest. December 2020, former Rep. Ted Howe fled Hong Kong taking advantage of an environmental conference Fake to seek asylum in the UK. Nathan Law, a former leader of the Umbrella Movement, also sought asylum, while many others sought protection in Germany, the United States and Australia.
However, fleeing abroad does not always mean total freedom: the law and other exiles complained of being stalked and even harassed by people they believed to be agents of the Chinese government, a claim Beijing officials denied. They are also restricted in the contacts they can have with family and friends in Hong Kong, for fear of running into trouble with the authorities.
While it is unlikely that most BN (O) holders living in the UK will be monitored, the turmoil surrounding the new scheme could make returns difficult for those who decide they do not want to stay in Britain. Ray Wong, an activist who fled to Germany in 2017 and became one of the first Hong Kong residents to gain asylum in Europe, admitted in an interview that he lacks everything in Hong Kong: “I miss being surrounded by people of ethnic origin who speak Cantonese. Even I miss the climate, which is seldom nice. “
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