U.K. opens special visa route for Hong Kong residents
Hong Kong and China relationship
- Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to the People’s Republic of China in 1997 under a policy known as “one country, two systems,” which promised the territory a high degree of autonomy.
- As a Special Administrative Region (SAR), Hong Kong allows freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China, including freedom to protest and an independent judiciary.
- But that autonomy, guaranteed under a mini-constitution known as the Basic Law, expires in 2047. The joint signed declaration does not state what will happen in 2047 after that agreement officially ends.
- Located on the southeast coast of China, Hong Kong’s strategic location on the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea has made it one of the world’s most thriving and cosmopolitan cities.
- Last year, China’s Parliament passed a new legislation for Hong Kong that will for the first time empower China to draft national security laws for the Special Administrative Region.
- Many sections in Hong Kong are protesting against the law who fear that it could be the biggest blow to the territory’s autonomy and personal freedoms since 1997 when it came under Chinese rule.
Why in News?
- Residents of Hong Kong can apply for a new visa offering them an opportunity to become British citizens as the United Kingdom opens its doors to those wanting to escape China’s crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous city.
- Anyone with a British National Overseas (BNO) passport and their dependents can apply online for a visa allowing them to live and work in the UK. After five years, they can then apply for citizenship.
- The visa scheme is a response to Beijing’s decision last year to impose a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong, a former British colony, to snuff out huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests.
- The UK said the law – which punishes subversion, collusion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces – breaches the terms of agreements under which Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997. London has argued it has a moral duty to the people of Hong Kong.
- China has reacted with fury to the visa offer. It announced BNO passports would no longer be recognised as a legitimate travel or ID document.
- The move was largely symbolic as Hong Kongers tend to use their own passports or ID cards to leave the city.
- But Beijing said it was prepared to take “further measures”, raising fears authorities might try to stop residents of Hong Kong from leaving for the UK.
About BNO passports
- The UK introduced BNO passports in the 1980s for people who were a “British dependent territories citizen by connection with Hong Kong”.
- Many residents of the city at the time wanted the UK to grant them full citizenship but China was opposed to the move. The BNO was a compromise, allowing Hong Kong people born before 1997 the right to stay in the UK for six months at a time, but with no working or settling rights.
- Now, it has become one of the few ways out for Hong Kong people hoping to start a new life overseas as authorities conduct mass arrests against democracy supporters.
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