The Australian government says it will offer around 10,000 Hong Kong passport holders currently living in Australia a chance to apply for permanent residence once their current visas expire.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government believes China’s imposition of new national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory means pro-democracy supporters there might face political persecution.
“That means that many Hong Kong passport holders may be looking for other destinations to go to and hence why we have put forward our additional visa options for them,” Australian Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said yesterday, adding that to obtain permanent residency, applicants would still have to pass “the character test, the national security test and the like.”
“So it’s not automatic, but it’s certainly an easier pathway to permanent residency, and of course, once you’re a permanent resident, there’s then a pathway to citizenship there. If people are genuinely persecuted, and they can prove that case, then they can apply for one of our humanitarian visas in any case,” Tudge said.
Morrison last week announced that Australia suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extended visas for Hong Kong residents from two to five years. The move came after China bypassed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to impose the sweeping security legislation without public consultation.
Critics view it as a further deterioration of freedoms promised to the former British colony, in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability. The national security legislation prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities, or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs.
Under the new legislation, police have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants, and order internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it reserved the right to “take further actions” in response to moves by the Australian government.
“The consequences will be fully borne by Australia,” Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅 ) told reporters at a daily press briefing in Beijing on Thursday last week.
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