Home Office U-turns on decision to exclude young Hong Kongers from BNO scheme

Ministers admit current rules creating ‘unfair outcomes’ for some Hong Kong nationals

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 24 February 2022 17:27 GMT
Teenagers and young people from Hong Kong have had to claim asylum in the UK, often leaving them waiting more than a year for a decision while being banned from working
Teenagers and young people from Hong Kong have had to claim asylum in the UK, often leaving them waiting more than a year for a decision while being banned from working (Natural)

The Home Office has U-turned on its decision to exclude young Hong Kong nationals from applying to a resettlement route designed to provide sanctuary to people from the city state.

Immigration minister Kevin Foster announced on Thursday that the government is to amend the BNO scheme criteria to allow Hong Kongers who were born on or after 1997 and who have parents with BNO passports to access it independently of their parents.

The scheme, designed to offer a path to citizenship for Hong Kong nationals in the wake of Beijing’s national security law being imposed last year, currently requires that applicants hold a BNO passport. These documents were issued to citizens following the handover of Hong Kong from the UK to China in 1997.

While the scheme allows applicants to bring relatives, including adult children, with them to the UK, many young people who have taken part in protests have had to flee alone because their parents wish to remain in Hong Kong.

The Independent revealed in October that teenagers and young people from the city-state have instead had to claim asylum in the UK, leaving them waiting for a year or more for a decision while being banned from working and often prevented from studying.

Acknowledging that this was creating “unfair outcomes”, Mr Foster said it was “right and important” that the government change the policy to enable individuals aged 18 or over who were born on or after 1 July 1997 and who have at least one BNO parent to apply to the route independently.

He said the government intended to lay the changes to the immigration rules in September, with the changes expected to go live in October.

The U-turn comes following criticism from a number of Conservative MPs, including Damian Green who tabled amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill which called for the change.

Mr Green told The Independent he was “delighted” that the government “listened”, adding: “It will make a huge difference to the lives of thousands of young Hong Kongers, some of whom have been brave in trying to defend democracy. On a dark day, this is a small shaft of light.”

Benedict Rogers, chief executive officer of Hong Kong Watch, which has been calling for the change for two years, said: “We are delighted that the government has taken the bold and moral step to expand the BNO visa for those brave young Hong Kongers who are not currently covered by the scheme.

“We greatly appreciated the parliamentary and civil society alliance that has stood with the people of Hong Kong to ensure the government lived up to its historic, legal, and moral obligations to help those most in need of a lifeline out of the city.”

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