Beijing has vowed to retaliate against the UK government after it revealed details of its “bespoke” immigration route for Hongkongers, established in response to newly-enacted national security legislation.

The UK home secretary Priti Patel announced on Wednesday that British National (Overseas) (BNO) citizens would be able to apply for five years’ leave or two consecutive 30-month periods. The new visa, valid for up to five years, grants passport holders the right of abode, work or study and provides a pathway to obtaining full British citizenship.

Priti Patel
UK home secretary Priti Patel. Photo: Pippa Fowles/Number 10 Downing Street.

“The United Kingdom will create a new bespoke immigration route for BNO citizens from Hong Kong, reflecting the unique and unprecedented circumstances in Hong Kong and the UK’s historic and moral commitment to BNO citizens,” the minister said.

Patel said Beijing’s decision to impose legislation criminalising secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong was a “matter of deep regret.” She accused the Chinese government of breaching the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and “undermining” the One Country, Two Systems framework.

The former colonial power said Hong Kong BNO visa applications would open in January 2021. BNO passport holders and their immediate dependents will be eligible to apply for the visa, regardless of whether their passport is valid.

uk british flag consulate
A protester showed her British passport. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in the UK responded on Thursday, saying the UK had “severely violated” its commitments, interfered in China’s internal affairs, violated international law and norms governing diplomatic relations.

“The Chinese side expresses its grave concern and strong opposition, and will certainly take effective counter-measures,” the statement read.

The embassy spokesperson urged the UK to “immediately correct its mistakes”: “Stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs, which are China’s internal affairs, in any form. Such interference will be self-defeating.”

British flags Hong Kong protest "Nov 29 2019"
Hong Kong protesters wave British flags at a protest on November 29, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Last month, pro-Beijing Executive Council member Regina Ip criticised Downing Street as “less generous” than it appeared after the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the government would extend visa-free stays for BNO passport holders to 12 months.

When Patel later suggested the scheme could provide a pathway to British citizenship, Ip questioned whether the British government had been “forced” into introducing such a policy.

On Monday, the UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab revealed the government had decided to indefinitely suspend its extradition agreement with Hong Kong. It also pledged to strip the UK’s 5G networks of technology from Chinese company Huawei by 2027, citing security concerns.

Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.