British security officials claim that a UK visa scheme designed for nationals of Hong Kong is being exploited by Chinese spies. The British National (Overseas) visa scheme was launched on 31 January 2021 exclusively for Hong Kong nationals affected by new Chinese security laws imposed on the Special Administrative Region in 2020.
However, according to a report published by The Times, government sources fear that the BNO visa is being exploited by Chinese sleeper agents posing as refugees in order to gain entry into Britain. Sources say that they are ‘aware of Chinese spies who have applied for BNO visas under the pretence of seeking refuge.
Government sources told The Times: “There are stringent background checks in place for the visa applications — and they’re in place for a reason. The vetting process for the BNO visa scheme is much more thorough than any other.”
Safeguards in place
Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Home Office said: “There are safeguards in place throughout the application process to ensure it is free from abuse and helps those most in need.”
Approximately 5.4 million Hong Kong nationals, which includes BNO status holders and their dependents, are eligible to apply for the new BNO visa, which enables them to work and study in the UK for up to five years.
Once the five-year period elapses, they can then apply for UK indefinite leave to remain and then citizenship after a further 12 months.
According to the most recent Home Office data, more than 34,000 applications for the BNO visa scheme had been received by the end of March. However, an estimated 150,000 are expected to arrive in the UK within the first year of the visa’s launch.
Joining the UK in offering a ‘safe haven’ for Hong Kong citizens, US President Joe Biden recently signed a memorandum offering temporary US immigration status to Hong Kong nationals, currently residing in the US, enabling them to remain in the country to live and work for 18 months.
The move has sparked fury in Beijing, which condemned the Biden administration’s actions and accused Washington of ‘blatantly defaming and attacking the law of China on safeguarding national security in Hong Kong’.
China’s new security law imposed on Hong Kong, which punishes whatever the Chinese government deems to be secession, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with foreign forces, has been blasted by several world governments. People convicted under the controversial law face life imprisonment.
Hong Kong police have already arrested dozens of pro-democracy activists under the law.
UK infiltration warnings
Lord Patten of Barnes, the last governor of Hong Kong, warned about the possibility of UK infiltration by China. He said: “We are dealing with a totalitarian state which uses informers. If anybody has fears that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will seek to place informers and people who will steal security secrets in open societies then they are entirely justified.”
“We should get real about this,” Lord Patten added.
Earlier this year, Chinese rulers in Hong Kong told foreign consulates to reject British travel documents, sparking further tensions between China and the UK.
A letter issued by the Hong Kong government has notified several foreign consulates that it no longer recognises the BNO passport as an approved document. Instead, the government is demanding a Hong Kong passport.
However, a senior diplomat said that most nations will ignore the Hong Kong government’s demand as it has ‘no right’ to tell other territories what passports they can recognise.
The diplomat said: “Most countries are going to ignore this demand. It is the Hong Kong government just trying it on.”
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