London offers longer visas to millions of Hong Kong people

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Millions of Hong Kong people can from today apply for new visas allowing them to stay longer in Great Britain and then to claim naturalization, a way for the former colonial power to offer a way out to those who want to escape Chinese repression.

Holders of a British Overseas Passport (British National Overseas, BNO) and their relatives were able, since Sunday morning, to apply online for a residence permit in Great Britain which will give them not only the right to live there, but also the one to work there for five years. Eventually, they will be able to apply for citizenship.

Until now they were only allowed to visit the UK for six months, without being able to work there.

This reform is London's response to Beijing's controversial decision last summer to impose on its semi-autonomous region a draconian national security law to deter all forms of dissent, after the massive popular mobilization of 2019.

Britain has accused China of reneging on its pledge made before Hong Kong's handover in 1997 to preserve the territory's freedoms and autonomy for at least half a century. London has put forward its moral duty to come to the aid of its former colony.

<q data-attributes = "{" lang ": {" value ":" fr "," label ":" Français "}," value ": {" html ":" We honor our deep, historical and friendly ties with the people of HongKong, and we defend freedoms and autonomy "," text ":" We honor our deep, historic and friendly ties with the people of Hong Kong, and we defend freedoms and autonomy "}}" lang = "en”>We honor our deep, historic and friendly ties with the people of Hong Kong, and we stand up for freedoms and autonomyBritish Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement this week.

"Colonial mentality" accuses Beijing

This reform provoked the ire of China, which announced that it would no longer recognize BNO passports as an identity document., which are inherited from the handover. A symbolic decision, because Hong Kong people generally use their local identity card to leave the territory.

But Beijing said it was ready to other measures, raising fears that the authorities are trying to prevent the Hong Kongers from leaving.

On Sunday, the official China New Agency accused London of having a colonial mentality, warning that these new provisions would harm the bilateral relations and to long-term interests of Great Britain.

It is not known how many Hong Kong people will apply for this visa, especially in the context of the pandemic which is complicating international travel and weighing down economies, knowing that the health situation is much better in Hong Kong than in Great Britain. About 70% of Hong Kong's population, which is 7.5 million, is eligible for this visa.

Passport applications BNO have increased by more than 300% since the entry into force of the security law in late June. There were 733,000 holders in mid-January.

London estimates that 150,000 Hong Kong people could arrive in the next 12 months, and 322,000 over the next five years.

At the time of handover, many Hong Kongers were asking London for full citizenship, but Beijing was staunchly opposed. The BNO had been a compromise for Hong Kongers born before 1997.

This passport is now one of the last exit tickets for Hong Kong people wanting to start a new life elsewhere, while the repression has intensified in the semi-autonomous region.

One of the conditions for obtaining the new visa is to be able to prove that you have enough money to live for at least six months.

Hong Kongers who have already settled in Britain and who are helping those wishing to emigrate say that many of those who apply are middle class and have enough savings to see it coming.

Most of those we spoke to are families with children in primary or nursery schoolan activist from the Lion Rock Hill UK organization, whose name refers to one of Hong Kong's most famous mountains, said on condition of anonymity.

<q data-attributes = '{"lang": {"value": "fr", "label": "Français"}, "value": {"html": "The BNO is undeniably a lifeboat "," text ":" The BNO is undeniably a lifeboat "}} 'lang =" en”>The BNO is undeniably a lifeboat, told AFP Mike, a scientist who recently arrived with his family in Manchester. He said many Hong Kong people are worried that China is trying to stop them from fleeing: So we have to leave as soon as possible.


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