Millions of Hong Kong residents will be offered a path to citizenship in the UK on Sunday in a historic move announced in the wake of Beijing's national security law being imposed on the city state last year.
The government anticipate around 300,000 of the 2.9 million Hongkongers with British National (Overseas) - or BNO - status and 2.3 million dependents who could apply will use the route over the next five years.
The extension of the status, which will allow BNO status holders to become full British citizens over the course of six years, comes after the introduction of China’s national security law in the semi-autonomous province - which critics have warned curtails the free speech, right to assembly and ability to voice dissent of Hong Kong residents.
Boris Johnson said: “I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BN(O)s to live, work and make their home in our country.
“In doing so we have honoured our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy - values both the UK and Hong Kong hold dear.”
Home secretary Priti Patel added: “Global Britain will always stand up for what is right and uphold our commitments. This new visa delivers on our promise to the people of Hong Kong, honouring our strong historic relationship and upholding their freedoms.
“I look forward to welcoming people wanting to put down roots and build a new life with their family in the UK.”
The UK fully withdrew from the former British colony in 1997, when it was ceded to China as part of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the provision it would be able to operate freely as a semi-independent region until 2047.
However, protests broke out during 2019 when legislators in the region sympathetic to Beijing introduced its controversial extradition law, which pro-democracy groups claimed gave China unfettered power to crush dissent by allowing Hong Kong residents to be tried across the border.
And while the region’s chief executive Carrie Lam offered some concessions to pro-democracy protestors, the introduction of the national security law - which makes undermining the power or authority of the central government a crime - was criticised by world leaders across the globe for curtailing the freedoms of those in the city state.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “We have been clear we won’t look the other way when it comes to Hong Kong. We will live up to our historic responsibility to its people.
“China’s imposition of the national security law in Hong Kong constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration contrary to international law.”
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