The decision of the Chinese Government to impose its national security legislation on Hong Kong is a matter of deep regret to this Government. This legislation and its strict implementation constitutes a clear breach of the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration, undermining the “one country, two systems” framework. It cannot be ignored.
I set out here the Government’s plans for a new Hong Kong British national (overseas) (BN(O)) visa and for the suspension of our extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
Hong Kong BN(O) Visa
Before the handover of the UK’s responsibilities for Hong Kong, we created the British national (overseas) (BN(O)) nationality status, which was opened to people in Hong Kong, through a registration process, to those who had British dependent territories citizenship. This status recognised the special and enduring ties the UK has with those people as a result of our role in Hong Kong before 1997. Now that China through its actions has changed the circumstances that BN(O) citizens find themselves in, it is right that we should change the entitlements that are attached to BN(O) status. I have decided to significantly improve those entitlements, to reassure BN(O) citizens that they have options to live in the UK if they decide that is an appropriate choice for them.
Today I am laying before the House a Command Paper (CP 280) providing further detail on a new bespoke Hong Kong BN(O) visa, covering eligibility, conditions and entitlements, the application process, timing, the position for BN(O) citizens in the UK, and arrangements for BN(O) citizens arriving at the border.
BN(O) citizens in Hong Kong are in a unique position, which is why I have designed a policy that is specific to them in the wider immigration system. It will not set a precedent. It is a proportionate response to the situation that has arisen. The UK is entitled to decide on the rights attaching to BN(O) status, which it has previously conferred, and that is what I am doing with these changes.
My offer to BN(O) citizens is therefore a very generous one. There will be no skills tests or minimum income requirements, economic needs tests or caps on numbers. I am giving BN(O) citizens the opportunity to acquire full British citizenship. They do not need to have a job before coming to the UK—they can look for work once here. They may bring their immediate dependants, including non-BN(O) citizens.
At the same time, it is not an unconditional offer. BN(O) citizens will need to support themselves independently while living in the UK; they must meet strict criminality checks and stay of good character; they will need to pay visa fees, the immigration health surcharge and, if they subsequently apply for citizenship after they become settled, the fee and meet the criteria. These are reasonable things to ask of BN(O) citizens, and BN(O) citizens will need to ask themselves whether coming to the UK to put down roots here is the right choice for them. It is a choice I am making available and I welcome warmly all those who decide to take it.
We are planning to open the Hong Kong BN(O) visa for applications from January 2021. BN(O) citizens do not need to hold a BN(O) passport in order to apply for the visa—so there is no need to apply for or renew a BN(O) passport specifically for this purpose. All BN(O) citizens will need a visa to be able to settle in the UK.
We understand there will be cases where the children of BN(O) citizens will not normally be eligible because they were born after 1997 (so are not BN(O) citizens) and are over 18 so they would not normally be considered as a dependant in the UK’s immigration system. Therefore, in compelling and compassionate circumstances, and where applications are made as a family unit, we will use discretion to grant a visa to the children of BN(O) citizens who fall into this category and who are still dependent on the BN(O) citizen.
If the above does not apply then the existing youth mobility scheme is open to people in Hong Kong aged between 18 and 30, with 1,000 places currently available each year. Individuals from Hong Kong will also be able to apply to come to the UK under the terms of the UK’s new points-based system, which will enable individuals to come to the UK in a wider range of professions and at a lower general salary threshold than in the past.
The Home Office looks forward to receiving applications for this visa.
The imposition of new national security legislation has significantly changed the assumptions underpinning the 1998 agreement for the surrender of fugitive offenders, our extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The Government remain especially concerned about articles 55 to 59 of the law, which could give mainland authorities the ability to assume jurisdiction over certain cases and try those cases in Chinese courts.
The national security law provides no legal or judicial safeguards in such cases. The decision can be made by the mainland authorities with no reference to the Hong Kong Government. Other than access to a lawyer, there are no legal or judicial safeguards in such cases and mainland systems of investigation, trial and punishment, about which the international community has long standing concerns, would apply. If China applies that legislation extraterritorially, it will pose a risk not only to Hong Kong residents who travel abroad, but potentially to British and other nationals travelling into Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Department of Justice has therefore been notified of our intention to suspend the extradition treaty, immediately and indefinitely, until the UK is sufficiently assured that the new National Security Agency established by China in Hong Kong will not be able to initiate extradition requests to the UK, that extradition requests will not be sent in relation to newly created offences under the national security law; and that people extradited from the UK could never be transferred from Hong Kong to mainland China without the UK’s explicit consent.
The suspension will protect those resident in the UK, including those who may soon be here by virtue of the new immigration route, from unwarranted pursuit through the provisions of the extradition treaty.