Britain’s foreign secretary has announced that residence rights for Hong Kongers eligible for British National Overseas passports will be extended to five years.
Dominic Raab told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the new rules will allow more than 3 million Hong Kongers the right to live and work in Britain without the current six-month limit. After five years in the U.K., BNO passport holders could apply for settled status and then apply for citizenship 12 months after that.
The announcement came after China imposed a sweeping new national security law in Hong Kong that Britain calls a flagrant breach of China’s international obligations and a clear and serious violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Britain’s government estimates there are around 2.9 million British National Overseas passport-holders currently in Hong Kong. It says its extended residency rules would apply to them and their immediate dependents.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The UK has a historic and moral obligation to British Nationals Overseas in Hong Kong and we will honor our commitment to them.”
“China’s decision to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong is deeply regrettable. Now China have imposed this law we will launch a new immigration route for British Nationals Overseas and their families.
Britain’s foreign secretary said Wednesday China’s new national security law for Hong Kong “is a clear and serious violation” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the agreement that paved the way for the former British colony’s handover to Chinese rule 23 years ago.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told reporters that officials have carefully assessed the contents of the new law since it was published late Tuesday. He said he planned to set out details of what action the U.K. will take along with its international partners in reaction to the law.
The 1984 treaty was supposed to guarantee at least 50 years of Western-style rule of law and civil liberties for Hong Kong under a “One Country, Two Systems” principle until 2047.
Chinese officials have in the past referred to the document as a “historical document,” a claim that Britain strongly rejects.
Raab said Tuesday that Beijing’s decision to impose the security law on Hong Kong lies in “direct conflict with China’s international obligations.”
He said Wednesday that the trust in China’s ability to live up to its international responsibilities took “a big step backwards.”
“We fought very hard and we negotiated with the Chinese back in the 1980s to have the freedom for peaceful protest and freedom of expression to be respected,” Raab said Wednesday. “China through this national security legislation is not living up to its promises to the people of Hong Kong. We will live up to our promises to them.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed Wednesday that Britain would allow up to 3 million Hong Kongers eligible for the British National Overseas passport to live and work in the U.K. for 12 months, up from the current six months. The policy change was meant to open up a “pathway” to British citizenship for Hong Kongers who want to flee the financial hub.