- The UK government has announced regulation giving Hong Kong BNO status holders the opportunity to become full citizen in six years
- The pathway paves the way for Hong King citizens and their immediate family members who have the BNO status to acquire full citizenship of the UK
- There is a possibility of Possible Chinese retaliation to the British move
The British government recently came up with a new set of regulation that would give Hong Kongers holding the British National Overseas (BNO) status the opportunity to become full citizens in six years. The scheme which is applicable to BNO status holders and their immediate dependent family members will open from January 2021 onwards. Under the scheme, applicants can either ask for two 30 months period visa or one single five-year period visa, after the expiry of which they can apply for permanent citizenship after a further period of 12 months. While rolling out the scheme, the British Secretary of State for the Home Department Priti Patel stated that the new Chinese law on Hong- Kong breaches the terms of the Sino- British joint declaration of 1997 and could not be ignored. Further drawing parallels to the situation in Hong Kong and the changes made to the VISA rules for BNO holders she said that it was a proportionate response to the situation and a very generous one.
The additional benefits the new rules bring for BMO holders
Under the new regulations, the entrants if they are awarded visas will have the right to work or study in the United Kingdom during their VISA periods but will not have access to social welfare. However, before they are to avail of any of these benefits, they have to fulfil critical visa requirements which the United Kingdom adheres to very strictly. First, they have to prove that they are valid BNO holders, then they have to pass health check and criminal background check and finally they have to prove that they can sustain themselves financially for a period of at least six months to be able to receive the VISA.
BNO holders who can currently stay in the UK for a period of six months without VISA now have their rights vastly expanded, and they will be able to do much more coming to the United Kingdom than they were able to do before. It is to be noted here that the concept of BNO first came into being when the UK handed over the reins of Hong Kong to China on 1 July 1997. However, the Chinese side does not recognise the concept of dual citizenship, and as per their law, it is not possible to renounce Chinese citizenship.
BNO status and BNSS status explained
Both BNO scheme and BNSS (British Nationality Selection Scheme) were created at the time of the handover. While the BNO scheme gave a higher British citizenship right to its holders, it did not bestow upon them full citizenship, whereas under the BNSS scheme full British citizenship was granted to nearly 50,000 Hong Kong residents.
These people are critical to the UK's business interest in Hong Kong and the rest of East Asia and are also held with regard by the Chinese establishment who realise how much influence they command in the region. Since the Chinese authority do not recognise the concept of dual citizenship and also do not allow people of the city from renouncing their Chinese citizenship the new security laws can be applied on them, which directly as well as indirectly can impact British interests in the region.
Particularly, the situation is precarious for young people who have been born to the BNO status holders in the period between 1997 and 2002 and are not dependent on their parents. They have been the ones who have taken part in the rallies against the government in the recent past and now will be persecuted by the Chinese authorities even more after the British move. Priti Patel, while addressing these concerns has stated that the government could consider VISA for these people on compassionate grounds or alternatively, they can apply for VISA under the government’s existing youth mobility schemes.
Possible Chinese retaliation to the British move
The biggest Chinese retaliation threat is for Hong Kongers who live outside the city and have business interests across the globe. They fear that since the Chinese authority would not allow them to renounce their citizenships, they may impose those laws on them outside China as well, which may even lead to situations like unlawful abduction of dissidents.
Several British businesses have made massive investments in China, to source components and other semi-manufactured goods, plus they also have huge exposure to the Chinese market in terms of the value of goods sold there. An errant Chinese establishment can take some adverse action that may cause harm to these investments, or they might even cease these investments, making it very difficult for the business to get it back. Other than that the Chinese authority may also restrict access to properties and businesses owned by BNO and BNSS status holders overseas claiming them to be their properties, which will result in a long-drawn legal battle that will hurt the interests of everyone involved.
China has threatened the United Kingdom of consequences for offering residency to BMO holders. Based on its behaviour in dealing with other countries in the recent past, it is quite possible that it may take coercive actions that will threaten British economic interests.
In the mid, to long term, the Britishers would have to reduce their dependence on Chinese manufacturers and reduce their exposure to the Chinese markets. In the recent past in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many manufacturers in the United Kingdom have suffered massive production losses due to non-arrival of components and intermediate good on time. This brings to the fore the high-risk situation many British businesses will have to face due their overdependent on China. So far as the residency to BNO status holders, it is an important move, as it will protect the UK's economic interest not only in Hong Kong but also in the entire East Asian region.
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