If the UK is to be a home for Hong Kongers, they need more than an entry ticket
It has been more than a year since Britain stood tall on the world stage and opened its doors to Hong Kongers fleeing Beijing’s tyranny through the introduction of the British National Overseas (BNO) visa scheme.
Launched in January 2021, there have been more than 100,000 applications for the BNO pathway, while official estimates predict the arrival of 258,000 to 322,400 BNO holders and their dependents in the coming five years. These figures confirm that the route has been an invaluable lifeline for Hong Kongers desperate to escape the Chinese Communist Party’s sweeping crackdown on democracy and human rights.
The government has also recently heeded calls to expand the scheme to include Hong Kongers born after 1997, the year of Britain’s handover of the territory to China. Considering that young Hong Kongers formed the bulk of the city’s pro-democracy movement, making them the most at risk of state retribution, this decision will help to protect some of Hong Kong’s most vulnerable in the fight for freedom.
Support for the integration of Hong Kongers into life in the UK remains glaringly inadequate
However, a Bloomberg report into the lives of recently relocated BNO visa holders and applicants has revealed that at present, the government’s support for the integration of Hong Kongers into life in the UK remains glaringly inadequate.
The government has rightly won plaudits for its decision to welcome millions of Hong Kongers to the UK. Yet without necessary provisions to sustain them, the government’s support risks falling short. If the UK is to be a home for Hong Kongers, they need more than an entry ticket.
Principal amongst the issues facing newly arrived and aspiring BNO visa holders remains the enormous visa fees and immigration health surcharges applicants are forced to pay. The rules also stipulate that BNO hopefuls must prove they have sufficient funds to sustain themselves and their family members for at least six months in the UK.
BNO applicants hail from all walks of life, including students, young professionals with fewer savings, and lower-income families and individuals. With costs climbing to thousands of pounds, such a policy could price out desperate Hong Kongers from safety and freedom.
Once in the UK, however, the challenges facing BNO visa holders persist. A survey conducted last year by Hongkongers in Britain found that nearly half of Hong Kongers who have recently resettled in the UK remain unemployed. This comes despite a Home Office study showing that seven in ten BNO status holders have higher education qualifications.
At present, all BNO visa holders aged 19 and above remain shut out of the government’s adult education and training programmes for the first three years of their residency. For the 31 per cent of Hong Kongers who arrive without a higher education background, or those seeking to develop new skills in an effort to adjust to life in the UK, this policy is particularly harmful.
We have shortages in skilled sectors across our workforce, and so the UK also stands to benefit economically by ensuring that Hong Kongers can prosper in the UK. According to the survey, 89 per cent of BNO visa holders arrive having worked in administrative, professional or managerial occupations, and could have the potential to mitigate the working shortages confronting the economy.
These provisions could transform the lives of Hong Kongers here in the UK.
The government must also recognise, however, that without a renewed effort to introduce sanctions on those officials guilty of creating the conditions that are driving the mass displacement of Hong Kongers, these policies merely address the symptoms, rather than the source of the problem.
In order to adequately fulfil its historic obligations to Hong Kong, the UK has a responsibility to confront the Beijing-backed terror that has swept unchallenged through the once-proud city for too long.
One way to do this is for the government to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions on those who have desecrated Hong Kong’s democracy and violated its people’s freedoms.
By taking action both at home and abroad, we can send a clear message that we truly stand with Hong Kong.
Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and co-chair of the APPG on Hong Kong.
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