Australia introduced new visa arrangements for holders of Hong Kong passports on Friday, opening up an easier route to permanent residency for students, temporary graduates, and skilled workers.

The new arrangements mean that all current and future students from Hong Kong will be eligible for a five-year extension to their visas upon graduation. Those applying for a temporary skill visa may also be eligible for an extended visa if their qualifications are included on the government’s skilled occupations list.

Australian Parliament, Canberra. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Those who hold a temporary graduate or temporary skilled shortage visa as of July 9 will have their visas automatically extended for five years. Meanwhile, an accelerated pathway is available for students and workers living away from major cities, who will be eligible for permanent residency after three years.

Hongkongers who are granted visas under the new streams will be eligible for permanent residency in Australia once their visas expire, potentially allowing up to 10,000 Hong Kong passports holders the right to permanently remain.

‘Best and brightest’

Alan Tudge, the Australian Acting Minister for Immigration, said that the new immigration streams will bolster the country’s job market and economy: “Australia has a long history of attracting Hong Kong’s best and brightest who have contributed significantly to our economic growth and job creation, and we are committed to ensuring this is further strengthened.”

Alan Tudge, MP. Photo: Wikicommons.

He also referred to recent events in the city that he anticipates will trigger a large exodus of talent: “We know that recent events in Hong Kong mean that many highly talented individuals will want to remain in or relocate to a free, democratic country like Australia, and these new arrangements will ensure we’re attracting those who create jobs and opportunities for Australians.”

The Australian government also announced in its statement that it is looking at further incentives to attract talent and businesses from Hong Kong.

Security law fears

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

Earlier in July, Australia suspended its extradition agreement with Hong Kong the day after the opening of the national security bureau in Hong Kong, citing a “fundamental change of circumstances.”

Australia’s move makes it the latest western country to make available easier pathways for Hongkongers looking to relocate from the city after the passing of the security law. The UK has also announced an extension of immigration resident rights and visas for Hongkongers.

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.