Britain on Thursday announced a package worth around HK$460 million (£43 million) to help emigrants from Hong Kong settle down in their new country, after thousands took advantage of a new visa offered in response to the Beijing-imposed national security law.
The fund, announced by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, will be used to help fund housing, healthcare, employment, language lessons and educational support.
The Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) Integration Programme will also provide 12 virtual “welcome hubs” across the UK to offer advice and help with administrative matters including schooling, healthcare and business registration.
Of the total, HK$328 million will be allocated to local councils in England to provide “targeted support” to new arrivals, including help with language tuition and with housing costs for those who need it. Some HK$53 million will finance the same services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“I want to extend a warm welcome to Hongkongers arriving in the UK and reaffirm that this government is doing everything in its power to ensure your success and happiness here,” Jenrick said on Thursday.
“This programme will ensure British National (Overseas) status holders and their families have the very best start as soon as they arrive, and support to help them find a home, schools for their children, opportunity and prosperity.”
The UK introduced its new visa for those Hongkongers eligible for British National (Overseas) passports and their immediate family members in response to Beijing’s imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong last June. Britain says the law violates its handover agreement with China guaranteeing the city’s autonomy and freedoms.
The new visa, which came into effect in January, allows holders to live and work in the UK for five years, with a pathway to full citizenship after that.
Around 27,000 people had applied for the BN(O) visa as of mid-March. Official British estimates suggest up to 330,000 Hongkongers may relocate to the UK over the next five years.
Beijing and Hong Kong authorities, who maintain that the security law has not infringed on any freedoms and accuse the UK of interfering in China’s internal affairs, retaliated by ceasing to recognise the BN(O) as a valid document and calling on other countries to do the same.
“BN(O) status holders have had their rights and freedoms restricted by the National Security legislation imposed by the Chinese government and it is right that we change the entitlements in the UK which are attached to their status,” a British government statement said.
“Today’s package shows the UK will not look the other way on Hong Kong, and that this government will deliver on its historic responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong.”
The new fund signals the UK’s commitment to helping Hongkongers to settle in the UK as Hong Kong authorities continue to crack down on all dissent under the security law, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab and Home Secretary Priti Patel said in the statement.
“It’s an unprecedented and generous scheme and there is no other visa in the world of this nature. We are working hard to successfully resettle people here and recognise there is nothing more difficult than leaving your home to rebuild a life in a new country,” Patel said.
UK community leaders also voiced support for the new fund. “I believe the new arrivals from Hong Kong have so much to offer our nation at this critical time. Our children will thrive studying alongside new Hong Kong classmates,” said a member of the Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers and Vice-President of the Jewish Leadership Council, Daniel Korski.
“Our businesses will benefit with fresh talent from Hong Kong. And our communities will be enriched by our new Hong Kong neighbours,” he added.
‘Hold China to account’
Hong Kong rights concern group Stand With Hong Kong said it was “delighted” at the move but called on the UK government to sanction Beijing over its quashing of Hong Kong’s autonomy.
“This is a very encouraging development in the right direction… However, as the joint signatory of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the UK also has a responsibility to hold China to account for its gross human rights violations,” said John Song, spokesperson for the group which is based outside Hong Kong.
He called on Raab to place Magnitsky-style sanctions on officials involved in curbing the city’s freedoms.
“The UK needs to send a clear message to China that destroying Hong Kong’s autonomy has consequences… we are still waiting for [Raab] to impose Magnitsky-sanctions onto the officials in Hong Kong who are responsible for the sustained gross human rights abuses that have been perpetrated against Hongkongers since the summer of 2019.”