Hongkongers with British National (Overseas) passports will be exempted from income tests during their five-year stay in Britain before they can apply for full citizenship, the Home Office said as it unveiled details of a historic policy change on Wednesday.
From January, an estimated 2.9 million eligible Hongkongers will be able to apply to resettle in Britain, together with their dependents, including their children, and even other adult dependents in “compelling” and “exceptional” circumstances.
“My offer to BN(O) citizens is a very generous one,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said. “I welcome warmly all those who decide to take it.”
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Hongkongers whose BN(O) passports have expired will not need to renew them immediately to take up the offer – they will be able to use another passport, such as the one issued by Hong Kong, to arrive in Britain, where border officers can access their BN(O) record electronically.
The historic change to the rights of Hongkongers born during the colonial era is a response to Beijing’s imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong, which Westminster has decried as a serious violation of human rights and a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Signed in 1984 by prime minister Margaret Thatcher and premier Zhao Ziyang, the joint declaration laid out the terms of Hong Kong’s handover to China after a century and a half of British colonial rule.
Patel said the government will not impose skills tests or minimum income requirements, economic needs tests or place caps on numbers.
Applicants also will not need to have secured a job in Britain prior to arrival.
“At the same time, it is not an unconditional offer,” Patel said, as BN(O) holders will need to be self-sufficient in the first five to seven years before they obtain British citizenship, with no access to social security.
Patel also sought to head off potential criticism from anti-immigration voices in Britain, saying: “BN(O) citizens in Hong Kong are in a unique position … It will not set a precedent.”
BN(O) passport holders planning to move to Britain from January can begin the process now, the Home Office said. The steps include providing proof of residence in Hong Kong, tuberculosis tests, and bank statements to prove they can support themselves once they are living in Britain.
Hongkongers will be able to fill out a form online when applications open next year, and their BN(O) passport holder status will be converted to a new digital “Hong Kong BN(O) visa”.
The fee for the visa application will be announced later.
Applicants will be able to choose either five years’ “leave to remain” in Britain, or two 30-month visas. The Home Office said it would be “more cost effective” to apply for the former.
Upon arrival in Britain, while they will not need to be proficient in English, applicants will need to “commit” to learning the language and acquiring knowledge by the time they apply for settled status after their fifth year in the country. One year after they get that status, they can apply to naturalise as a British citizen.
The fee for “leave to remain” is currently £2,389 (US$3,035), while adult citizenship costs £1,206 (US$1,532).
The scheme for Hongkongers is noticeably more generous than that offered for European Union citizens in the future, but campaigners say more can be done.
“There are gaps in the policy, particularly for young people whose parents are not BN(O)s, so other countries should take action,” said Johnny Patterson, director of the London-based Hong Kong Watch group.
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More from South China Morning Post:
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This article Britain unveils details of citizenship offer for Hongkongers with BN(O) passports first appeared on South China Morning Post