Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has welcomed Hongkongers to settle in the capital under the BNO visa scheme, as the city earmarks £900,000 (HK$9.6 million) to help with advice on housing, education and employment.

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Between 123,000 and 153,000 people with Hong Kong British National (Overseas) status and their dependents are expected to move to London.

“We have a rich track record of enabling people to fulfil their potential,” Khan told HKFP on Thursday, adding that his own family emigrated from Pakistan.” When you’re choosing a city to go to – my message is: London’s open… You’ll be received with open arms.”

UK flight
A British Airways plane in the Hong Kong International Airport. File photo: Chris Sutton, via Flickr.

The BN(O) visa scheme introduced in January offers two visa routes — one for BN(O) passport holders and their dependants, and another for their household members, which includes their adult children. It was enacted in light of the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest, and the subsequent crackdown under the security law. The Hong Kong and Chinese authorities have slammed the offer as “interference.”

Applications for a household member visa must be tied to an application by a BN(O) status holder. Only those born in British Hong Kong before the handover of July 1, 1997 are eligible for a BN(O) passport.

In June, HKFP reported on instances of racist abuse suffered by Hongkongers settling in Britain. Khan urged Londoners to welcome newcomers and to report cases of discrimination: “It’s really important we have a zero tolerance towards hate crime, whether that hate crime comes from those sympathetic to the Chinese government or others.”

“It’s unacceptable that anyone who has arrived in this country – particularly from Hong Kong – should be discriminated against for their views.”

Hong Kong International Airport
Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Khan added that the UK had a “historic and moral commitment” towards Hongkongers but the city would also benefit economically.

In a press release, UK Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said that the government will create 12 virtual welcome hubs across the UK to advise Hongkongers: “Government funding is helping to ensure that new arrivals from Hong Kong have the best start to their new lives – assisting them to find a home, a school place for their children and employment – here in London and across the country.”

Wave of emigration

Between the end of January and the end of March, 34,300 BN(O) status holders and their family members applied for a visa. In all, the UK government expects 258,000 and 322,000 to apply over five years.

In a statement last year, the Chinese embassy in London said it opposed the new BN(O) scheme and urged the UK to “respect China’s position and concerns” and “refrain from interfering in Hong Kong affairs in any way.” In Thursday’s interview, Khan disagreed that London was interfering and said the Handover deal was a joint agreement.

Hong Kong International Airport
Hongkongers leave the city. File Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Earlier this year, the Hong Kong authorities began to refuse to recognise the BN(O) passport as a valid travel document.

In recent weeks, long queues have formed at the airport for flights leaving for the UK and other destinations. On Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she had little comment on the waves of emigration, adding that it was Hongkongers’ “personal choice” and the city still had a lot to offer.

International rights groups say the authorities have used the Beijing-imposed security law to quash political dissent and undermine Hong Kong’s human rights in the year since it came into force. Over 10,000 protesters have been arrested in relation to 2019’s pro-democracy protests and unrest, most of them young people. The local authorities, however, have said it has brought peace and stability, and has only affected a small minority of people.

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Tom founded Hong Kong Free Press in 2015 and is the editor-in-chief. In addition to editing, he is responsible for managing the newsroom and company - including fundraising, recruitment and overseeing HKFP's web presence and ethical guidelines.

He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He previously led an NGO advocating for domestic worker rights, and has contributed to the BBC, Deutsche Welle, Al-Jazeera and others.