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The UK government has strongly hinted that it will extend its flagship BNO visa scheme – currently reserved for Hong Kong nationals who hold a British National Overseas (BNO) passport – to Hongkongers aged 18 – 24 who have been most embroiled in civilian protests in Hong Kong over security rules imposed on the former British territory by China.
The current BNO visa scheme was launched last year and is only available to BNO passport holders born before 1997, the year that Hong Kong was handed back to China and ended the BNO scheme.
However, a campaign that has the backing of senior Conservative MPs, including former foreign secretary William Hague and the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, has been underway for months.
Route to UK citizenship
The campaign urges the government to open a route to UK citizenship for young Hongkongers if they are children of BNO passport holders who don’t want to come to Britain.
In a recent debate over the new Nationality and Borders bill, Home Office minister Andrew Sharpe said that for the first time, the government was seriously considering expanding the BNO visa scheme to Hongkongers born after 1997.
“We have heard concerns raised, and are very sympathetic to the circumstances of children born on or after July 1997 with BNO parents,” Sharpe said.
The Home Office minister went on to say that he would hopefully have an update ready by the time the Nationality and Borders bill reached the report stage.
Youth mobility scheme
Government ministers had previously proposed that young Hong Kong nationals ineligible for the BNO visa scheme could gain entry to Britain via the Youth Mobility Scheme.
Following the launch of the BNO visa scheme, the Johnson government said it was expecting up to 300,000 Hongkongers to come to the UK over the next five years.
According to Sharpe, by the end of September 2021, 88,000 Hongkongers had applied to come to the UK, with 76,000 applicants granted UK entry.
Meanwhile, the net value to the UK Treasury of Hong Kong migrants coming to Britain is estimated to be worth £2.4 to £2.9 billion over five years.
Backing call to relax BNO visa rules for young Hongkongers, crossbench peer David Alton said: “These are courageous young people that need a lifeboat out of the city. These are the very people that flooded the streets and stood up for freedom in 2019.”
According to official research published in 2021, 93% of defendants protesting on the streets of Hong Kong against Chinese security laws were between the ages of 18 and 25.
Lord Patten also praised what has been dubbed the BNO lifeboat scheme when speaking to fellow peers, saying that it had already resulted in many talented young professionals arriving in the UK, including health specialists and teachers.
He said: “The proposal will be a wonderful way to ‘mend a hole in the lifeboat’. There has been a comprehensive assault on fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong. China has destroyed one of the great free cities of the world.”
A previous version of the ‘lifeboat’ proposal, put forward by former UK Secretary of State, Damian Green, had the backing of 30 Tory MPs but was rejected by the government. Instead, ministers proposed an ‘alternative Youth Mobility Scheme’ – a route that did not offer the same pathway to British citizenship.
It’s estimated that 200 young Hongkongers have applaud for UK asylum, but some face protest-related criminal charges, according to a report published by The Guardian. This makes it harder for them to apply for asylum and some have already been waiting for more than 12 months.
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