Perseus: Hongkongers find themselves as inadvertent victims of the UK’s “hostile environment” towards migrants

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Since the Chinese Communist Party announced its intentions to enact a National Security Law for Hong Kong, the international community has been seeking to dissuade the Chinese Government from such a draconian course of action, breaching the guarantees offered to the peoples of Hong Kong of “one country, two systems”. As the National Security Law came into force on 30 June 2020, the international community started working on policies to assist the Hongkongers who now face the unexpected curbing of their rights.

The United Kingdom Government has, for its part, begun putting in place plans to assist those who hold British National (Overseas) (“BN(O)”) status and their dependants, with a new visa route available from January 2021. In the meantime, BN(O) status holders and their dependants will be allowed to enter the United Kingdom outside of the normal rules in order to allow them to flee Hong Kong should they wish to do so, and to wait for the BN(O) visa scheme to become live in January 2020, whilst allowing them the right to work and study.

Although the official policy allows BN(O) status holders and their dependants to apply for entry to the United Kingdom outside of the normal rules, there have been accounts of border officials refusing to allow BN(O) status holders and their dependants the correct right to enter the United Kingdom under the Government’s own policy, but instead allowing BN(O) status holders and their dependants leave to enter the United Kingdom simply as visitors, which prohibits employment and long term studies.

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Even if border officials are granting the correct right to enter the United Kingdom, there are accounts of Hongkongers experiencing other difficulties once within the United Kingdom. A Hongkonger who wishes to remain anonymous has spoken of not being able to open a bank account because he has no settled address in the United Kingdom since he is only staying in Airbnb and hotel accommodation, however, he is also facing difficulties in renting property because he has no form of credit or bank account in the United Kingdom, and is being asked for a year’s rent in advance.

Other Hongkongers, such as one who identifies himself as “Joe”, have told of difficulties in obtaining employment. Whilst being provided with the correct form of leave to enter the United Kingdom by border officials, Joe is finding difficulties in obtaining employment because the entry stamp in his passport does not specifically state that he is allowed to work in the United Kingdom.

The United Kingdom Government, to an extent, relies on employers and landlords to enforce immigration law, issuing heavy fines to employers and landlords who respectively employ or let accommodation to those with no right to work or those with no right to be in the United Kingdom. With no clear indication to confirm that Joe is allowed to work, he is discovering that some employers are simply not willing to risk the prospect of a heavy fine.

Whilst frustrated at difficulties in finding employment at present, and with the prospects of having to wait until January 2021 before his right to work in the United Kingdom can be clarified by the United Kingdom Home Office when the BN(O) visa scheme becomes live, Joe stressed that he is nonetheless grateful to the United Kingdom Government for implementing an immigration route for BN(O) status holders and their dependants.

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In addition to problems faced in obtaining work, other Hongkongers have also told of concerns regarding fees for higher education, worried about being charged the high international student fees when they are trying to settle in the United Kingdom to avoid the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on Hong Kong.

Despite the hiccoughs in the implementation of the BN(O) immigration route so far, there are also accounts of Hongkongers who have not faced issues with border officials, and who have also had no problems finding employment. The problems faced by Hongkongers in gaining employment is the unfortunate by-product of the United Kingdom Government’s “hostile environment” towards those who have no legal right to be in the United Kingdom.

Hongkongers hope that as the United Kingdom Government works on refining more details of the BN(O) policy, there will be more guidance and clarifications issued by the Government in relation to the rights and entitlements of those Hongkongers who are trying to resettle in the United Kingdom.

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Perseus (a pen name) is a Hongkonger based in the UK. He is a freelance photojournalist and writer, as well as a human rights and public law lawyer practising in London.


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