United in Law: Boris offers Hong Kongers safe haven from security law

June 28, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has said in an op-ed in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post that he will offer around 3m Hong Kong residents a chance to move to the UK to seek refuge if China implements its national security law.

What does this mean?

Boris Johnson’s offer amounts to increasing the original 6-month right to visit the UK that Hongkongers with British Overseas Passports (BNOs) had to a 12-month renewable visa (that now includes the right to work). This would allow 350,000 Hongkongers with BNOs and another 2.5 million Hongkongers that are eligible for BNOs to move to the UK for 12 months and possibly get a “path to citizenship”.

Boris Johnson has made the offer in response to China’s proposed national security law. The proposed law (which was passed by the National People’s Congress on 28 May 2020) will allow China to step in and take action in Hong Kong over areas where there is subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong. A key issue with the national security law is that it will bypass Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (which is the equivalent of the city’s parliament), allowing China to act in Hong Kong without interference from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. This has sparked a wave of fear that China will use the new legislation to crack down on dissent in Hong Kong.

What's the big picture effect?

Given China’s current and previous reactions to foreign pressures on what it considers domestic issues (such as its activities in the South China Sea and Tibet), it is unlikely that China will acquiesce and rescind its national security law. As such, Boris Johnson will likely have to make good on his offer. 

While not all eligible people are likely to take up Boris Johnson’s offer, a sizeable number may do so (Google searches in Hong Kong for emigration to other countries spiked after news of the law was released). A result of this is that British law firms with established immigration practices (such as Bates Wells and Squire Paton Boggs) will see an increase in demand for their services in the coming months or years to support the increase in enquiries, applications and resulting legal work that will arise (to cover issues such as overstaying and other immigration issues that may come with it).

Whether Boris Johnson’s offer constitutes a real avenue of escape for Hongkongers unhappy with the national security law, however,  is another question. From the protests that happened last year, it would seem that those that are unhappy with the national security law are generally young. For such individuals, their age would make them unlikely to be eligible for a BNO. This may leave those in most urgent need of an escape route left truly in the lurch.

Report written by Zachary Ng

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