Beijing’s foreign ministry office in Hong Kong has condemned proposed changes to the British National (Overseas) immigration route, which is set to be expanded to allow Hongkongers who were born on or after July 1, 1997, to apply for settlement independently of their eligible parents.

The UK government announced on Thursday that it has plans to broaden the eligibility of a pathway to citizenship for the people of Hong Kong. The proposed amendments would enable adults in Hong Kong who were born on or after the city’s handover to China – and have at least one parent with BN(O) status – to apply separately to settle in Britain.

Currently, this cohort may only apply for the BN(O) visa as a dependent if they are part of their parents’ household and if they file their applications at the same time. The UK Parliamentary Under Secretary for Safe and Legal Migration Kevin Foster said on Thursday that some applicants were unable to access the BN(O) route because they failed to meet the criteria.

“It was right to think about the family unit of the BN(O), but this is creating unfair outcomes for the families of BN(O) status holders with some children able to access the route independently as they were old enough to be registered for BN(O) status, while their younger siblings aged between 18 and 24 are unable to access the route,” the lawmaker said.

Launched in January last year in response to the Beijing-imposed national security law, the new immigration route allows Hong Kong people with BN(O) status to live, work and study in the UK. The visa is valid for either 2.5 years or five years and is extendable. After five years, the BN(O) visa holder may apply to become a permanent resident.

People queuing to check in for a flight to London at the Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

According to Foster, as of December 31 last year, the UK saw 103,900 applications since the pathway was rolled out. The number was lower than what the British authorities predicted last January, when they estimated up to 154,000 Hongkongers could arrive in the first year of the scheme.

The proposed amendments are expected to be introduced to the Immigration Rules in the UK in September, with the new criteria to take effect in October, the lawmaker added.

‘Political manipulation’

In a strongly-worded statement issued on Friday, the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in Hong Kong said the announcement by the British government “grossly interfered” in its internal affairs. The agency accused the UK of “manipulating” the issue of the BN(O) scheme under the pretext of the national security law and “providing shelters for anti-China forces in Hong Kong,” with an intention to “disrupt” the city.

“British repeated manipulation of BNO scheme is damp squib and will backfire,” the title of the statement read.

The Golden Bauhinia in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

“The UK broke its own promises and played the trick of a thief crying ‘stop thief.’ How can such an unjustifiable action be supported by the people and the international community?” the spokesperson said.

The local office of the Chinese foreign ministry went on to say that Hongkongers who emigrated to the UK “fell into the ‘immigration trap’,” citing media reports that some faced discrimination and difficulties in the country.

“The botched political manipulation of the British side cannot deceive the Hong Kong people or undermine the unity and stability in the SAR…” the statement read, as the spokesperson called on the UK to “abandon colonial nostalgia in Hong Kong” and “correct wrongdoings.”

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.