This time last year, the UK extended a pathway to citizenship for Hong Kongers who hold a British Nationals Overseas passport. Going some way to right a historic wrong (the Liberal Democrats have been campaigning for the rights of BNOs since Paddy Ashdown started raising the point in the 1990s), the government made the necessary commitment to support Hong Kongers who needed a lifeline.
But, as I’ve repeatedly underlined, the policy omits some of the people who need help the most: namely Hong Kongers under the age of 24 who were born after 1997. Given many of the protestors were students, this is a glaring omission.
One year on, the government must now ensure that the commitment they have made is followed up with meaningful action so that BNOs find a warm welcome on arrival.
BNOs are moving to the UK because of political push-factors, in a manner not dissimilar to refugees. Yet they are being treated like economic migrants who are expected to pay their way through life without sufficient support.
The government should be looking for ways to increase the generosity of the scheme. A particular area of concern is that of student fees. For those BNOs who bring their children with them, the government is currently saying that they will have to pay international fees.
Students with BNO parents in the UK will be forced to pay around £100,000 to attend university. This cost is beyond the means of most normal Hong Kongers.
A Hong Kong Watch briefing published on 30 June underlined that multiple Hong Kongers are already saying that they will be unable to study in the UK if the fee banding does not change. It is not only BNOs who are hit by this, but also some British citizens.
Sean is a 21-year-old Hong Konger who was born with British citizenship. During his second year at university in Hong Kong, he was forced to flee to the UK after being pursued by the police. Even though Sean is a British citizen, he does not meet the requirements for ‘home status’ fees, because he had not been residing in the UK in the three years before the beginning of his course.
As such, he will have to pay international fees, currently set at £28,500 for his course, and will not be eligible for a student loan. He does not have the money to pay for this. The injustice of a British citizen being denied access to domestic student fees is stark.
Integration must also be a priority. It would be naïve to imagine that the new arrivals will slot seamlessly into our society. Proper integration requires work.
The government setting aside more than £40 million to facilitate integration is a welcome start, but it must be spent on the right projects. Language tuition must be a priority, as should the provision of mental health support for those experiencing PTSD in the wake of protests. Local councils and civil society groups should be properly resourced so that local communities can help make Hong Kongers welcome.
Finally, the government must stand with Hong Kongers who are being targeted for their decision to leave. There are reports that HSBC and other international firms are denying BNOs their right to access their pension money stored in Hong Kong when they leave. The UK government must do all it can to ensure that British firms are not complicit in repression.
One year on, and there is still a great deal of work to be done. The success of the policy will depend on what steps the government takes next.
We have an historic and a moral obligation to make that happen.
Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon
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