Sanwar Ali: additional reporting and comments
BNO visa holders from Hong Kong arriving in the UK will benefit from a £43 million support package to help them settle in Britain, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced. The support package will help new arrivals to access housing, educational support and work.
Human rights abuses in China are well documented. A number of countries have introduced sanctions against China due to human rights abuses against the mainly Muslim Uighur minority in China, including the European Union, UK, US and Canada. It is not surprising that many people in Hong Kong are scared to remain there. They face the possibility of ending up in Chinese "re-education camps" or worse.
The plans will include 12 ‘virtual welcome hubs’, which will be set up across the UK, offering ‘practical advice and help applying for school places, registering with GPs and even starting a business.
The BNO visa program was launched on 31 January 2021, with the aim of making it easier for millions of people in Hong Kong to live and work in the UK, after China imposed a draconian new security law on the Special Administrative Region.
China no longer recognising BNO passport
In response to so-called ‘British meddling’ in Chinese affairs, China’s government has said it will no longer recognise the BNO passport and said that it ‘reserved the right to take further action’.
An official statement issued by the UK government said: “Those with BNO status have had their rights and freedoms restricted by the National Security Legislation imposed by the Chinese government and it is right that we change the entitlements in the UK which are attached to their status.”
According to government data, approximately 5.4 million people are eligible for the BNO visa scheme, and officials estimate that at least 322,000 could take up the offer of living and working in the UK over the next five years.
BNO citizenship was established in 1985, just prior to the UK handing Hong Kong over to China in 1997. However, the scheme initially only offered Hong Kong nationals the right to visit the UK for six months visa-free.
Under the new BNO visa scheme, eligible passport holders can apply to live and work in the UK for two periods of five years, with a pathway to citizenship also available.
Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, said: “We are a champion of freedom and democracy and will live up to our responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong, so that these families will come to find the UK a place they can call home.”
“I expect that new arrivals will make a real and important contribution to the UK because many have qualifications in teaching, medicine or engineering.”
Prior to the support package being announced, several community groups had raised concerns about BNO visa holders needing help with finding jobs and housing.
Manager of Hackney Chinese Community Services, Jabez Lam, said: “Around 7,000 Hong Kong nationals have already arrived in the UK. Many have booked into hotels or Airbnbs while they look for rented accommodation.”
“We believe as the lockdown eases that rate will accelerate,” Mr Lam added.
Meanwhile, chairman of Hong Kongers in Britain, Simon Cheng, has urged the government to help people who have been protesting in Beijing, but are not eligible for BNO visas.
He said: “The BNO visa scheme is rather a life-boat scheme for rescuing people out of tyranny, and some of those may need actual help for resettlement, and to have a launch pad to contribute more to the UK economy and for sure, UK democracy.”
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