The United Kingdom is among the first countries to offer asylum for Hong Kong residents affected by the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on democracy in the former British colony.
The U.K. has created a new visa scheme to provide hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens with access to housing, schools and jobs. Tory Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab stated that the U.K. has a “proud history of providing protection to those who need it.”
Thus far, the U.K. has received around 27,000 applications for visas, after Beijing imposed a national security law to crack down on the island nation. The visas provide Hong Kongers with the right to live in the U.K. for five years, whereupon they can apply for proper citizenship or move elsewhere.
MP Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, said that the Tories want to provide Hong Kongers with “necessary” support. "If they struggle, then we're here to support them," he told the BBC.
"That means local councils being there to provide them with housing, with the benefit system standing behind them, with all the support the state can offer to make sure that no-one gets into difficult times," he said.
The move to create the visa scheme was preempted by providing Nathan Law, a leading pro-democracy activist, with asylum in the U.K. The Home Office told Law that it accepted that he was at risk of severe political prosecution if he returned to Hong Kong.
In recent months, China has arrested and jailed numerous pro-democracy activists, communist-critical politicians, and journalists who resisted or condemned China’s crackdown on Hong Kong. Pro-democracy activist and media mogul Jimmy Lai was jailed despite not being accused of a violent crime or even considered a flight risk.
Since Jan. 21, Hong Kong residents have been welcomed into the U.K. for up to five years and can apply for permanent residency. The U.K. has described China's anti-democratic legislation as an erosion of rights and personal freedoms.
The BBC reports that the number of visas from Hong Kong is expected to increase in the coming months and may even outnumber the Home Office’s initial prediction of 154,000 arrivals in the first year of the visa scheme.
Jenrick was optimistic that Hong Kongers will provide a “real and important contribution” to the U.K. He pointed out that many incoming residents have qualifications in teaching, medicine, and engineering.
Simon Cheng, who leads a pro-democracy charity called Hongkongers in Britain, told the BBC that the British government should also extend its visa scheme to help Beijing residents who participated in the pro-Hong Kong protests but were not eligible for the visa.
“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 launchpad to contribute more to the UK economy and for sure, UK democracy,” he said.