Hong Kong residents are likely to move to the UK faster than the British government has anticipated and more should be done to prepare for their arrival, a new advocacy group has said.
The group, HongKongers in Britain, surveyed territory residents hoping to emigrate under a new British government scheme that opens next month, allowing those with colonial-era British National Overseas (BNO) status to obtain visas and pursue a “path to citizenship.”
The British Home Office has already said it expects nearly half a million people to take up the offer over its first three years, but HongKongers in Britain said the number could be more than 600,000.
About three-quarters of those planning a move hold university degrees and earn salaries well above the territory’s average, so will be well-positioned to contribute to the British economy.
However, few have family in the UK and only half have friends here, so they might need help settling and integrating. Three-quarters plan to travel with children, so schools need to be prepared for an influx of students, the group said.
Four out of five of those surveyed want to move in the next two years, quicker than anticipated by the British government.
“The speed in terms of how soon they want to come to the UK or leave Hong Kong [is] quite astonishing,” Rikkie Yeung of HongKongers in Britain said. “Many will come soon, very soon. The majority, 80 percent, were planning to emigrate, leave Hong Kong, within two years.”
The UK’s plan for a path to citizenship was drawn up in response to a National Security Law passed by Beijing this summer, which has been used to crush dissent in Hong Kong across politics, academia and the media.
The survey of those hoping to use it to emigrate was not a random sampling of territory residents, because migration to the UK is politically sensitive.
China has condemned the policy and threatened to stop recognizing the BNO passports and take other “countermeasures.”
Instead, HongKongers in Britain looked for survey participants on social media channels, where it has a strong following. More than 300 people participated anonymously.
There have been predictions of a brain drain as many in the territory consider the UK’s visa offer or emigration to other countries including Canada and Australia.
About 3 million people in Hong Kong, or nearly half its population, are eligible for BNO passports, and they would be able to travel with dependants.
Those who wanted to move to the UK overwhelmingly said their main motivation for uprooting their lives and moving halfway around the world was political pressure.
“Ninety-six percent consider Hong Kong no longer a safe and free home that they are used to living in, after the passing of the National Security Law,” the report said.
Nearly all see their move as a step toward citizenship, with 93 percent hoping to apply when they are eligible after five years’ residency.
A small proportion of those hoping to move have been arrested for their role in pro-democracy protests since last year. Although criminal records are often a bar for visas, HongKongers in Britain called on British authorities to use discretion in cases of applicants charged with political crimes.
Several respondents to the survey said they worried about surveillance by Chinese security forces, even in the UK.
The group called on British authorities to consider excluding groups who could “harm national security,” such as Hong Kong police and officials, from the visa scheme.
It also called for an expansion to cover those who do not have BNO status, but are in need of a safe haven, including younger protesters born after the 1997 handover from British colonial rule, or whose parents do not hold BNO status.
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