Perseus: Hongkongers’ thoughts on the UK Government’s BNO visa scheme

5 mn read

With the United Kingdom Government having set out at the end of July details of its policy for Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas) (“BNOs”), more and more Hongkongers are starting to arrive in the United Kingdom, wishing to take advantage of the United Kingdom Government’s scheme for BNO status holders and their dependants.

Eat News speaks to some Hongkongers on their thoughts, hopes, and disappointment about the new proposed BNO visa scheme.

BN(O) passports sported a burgundy red cover, identical to that of the British Citizen passports between 1990 and March 2020. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mother, 42 years old

Evelyn (a pseudonym), mother of two children – 11 and 12 years old – left Hong Kong for the United Kingdom to take advantage of the BNO scheme, and the United Kingdom’s early arrangement to allow BNO status holders and their dependants to come to the United Kingdom ahead of the full scheme becoming live in January 2021. Evelyn told Eat News that her concerns about the political situation in Hong Kong since the Umbrella Movement in 2014 has made her worry about what Hong Kong would be like for her children. “There is no ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kong anymore,” Evelyn said, adding, “Hongkongers are being suppressed, there is a lot of injustice in Hong Kong now. I do not trust the police, and there is no Rule of Law.” Evenlyn also told Eat News that one of her concerns was also the quality of education which her children would receive had she remained in Hong Kong, opting to move so that her children can receive education in an environment which will allow them to learn the values of democracy and freedom.

Evelyn told Eat News that she has encountered feelings of resentment from Mainland Chinese who have now settled in the United Kingdom. Evelyn tells of a Mainland Chinese lady complaining to her that the BNO scheme was “unfair”, questioning Evelyn as to why Evelyn’s BNO passport looks the same as her British citizen passport as she had to pay a lot of money to get a British passport, whereas now BNO status holders and their families can come to the United Kingdom easily.

Student, 21 years old

Cherry (a pseudonym) has been in the United Kingdom for four years studying at university. Although Cherry had planned to return to Hong Kong after her studies, the political situation in Hong Kong, with the recent imposition of the National Security Law on the city by China’s National People’s Congress has made her think twice about returning to Hong Kong. Cherry told Eat News, “It is very disheartening to find out that you’re one of the groups that will not benefit from all this.” Although her parents both have BNO status, she is unlikely able to benefit from the scheme as both her parents will not be willing to move from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom in the near future, even if she could qualify as an over-18 child dependant. Largely due to the developments in Hong Kong, Cherry added that any choice she makes in terms of her future studies and career feels like a “forced choice” due to the reality of having to remain in the United Kingdom, but at the same time having to navigate the hoops of the United Kingdom’s immigration system at the same time. If Cherry remains a student, she will need to have resided in the United Kingdom continuously for 10 years before being eligible for settlement.

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Professional, 31 years old

A lady surnamed Chan told Eat News that she planned to come to the United Kingdom when the BNO policy becomes live in January 2021. Chan is married to a same-sex partner who is originally from the Mainland of China. Both Chan and her partner have spent time in the United Kingdom, and actually met whilst studying at university in the United Kingdom. Chan explains that she fears that “Hong Kong will be just like another city of [the Mainland of] China”, whilst Chan’s partner just wants democracy and freedom.

Chan worries that although she is a BNO status holder herself, she would not be able to benefit from the scheme with her partner, as the eligibility criteria as currently set out by the United Kingdom Government requires both BNO status holder sponsor and dependants to be “ordinarily resident in Hong Kong.” The problem which Chan and her partner face is that Chan’s partner lives in the Mainland of China.

Chan explained to Eat News that as her partner is from the Mainland of China, she cannot rely on normal Hong Kong dependant visas application, which specifically exclude Chinese residents from the Mainland of China. Therefore, Chan’s partner is unable to live in Hong Kong with Chan due to Hong Kong’s own immigration system. Chan fears that her partner being forced to live outside of Hong Kong by Hong Kong’s exclusionary immigration system, rather than by choice of Chan and her partner, would cause problems for an application under the BNO scheme, as her partner is not “ordinarily resident in Hong Kong”.

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Professional, 35 years old

IT professional, surnamed Lo, told Eat News that he had no plans to leave Hong Kong presently, as he has a stable job in Hong Kong working in IT, but would think about leaving Hong Kong if the political situation deteriorates further. Lo feels that the BNO scheme as proposed by the United Kingdom Government will offer some kind of feeling of security for Hongkongers who may want to leave if the political situation worsens, but says of the present situation, “I don’t think there would be many people wanting to leave Hong Kong.”

Lo said that people who were only minors before 1 July 1997, like himself, had their futures decided by the parents who did not register them for BNO status before 1 July 1997. Lo was not given a choice as to whether or not he wished to maintain his ties to the United Kingdom due to the BNO registration cut off when he was still a minor, despite having been born in the era of British Hong Kong.

Lo told Eat News that he had previously participated in peaceful protests, but with China’s National Security Law for Hong Kong implemented, he said that criticising the Government was now “risky business”, and that he was worried he might be arrested if he carried on with any protest related activities.

Professional couple, in their 40s

Andrew (a pseudonym) and his wife were working in managerial roles in supply chain management in Hong Kong. They left Hong Kong due to pessimism about Hong Kong and China’s future, with a lot of business in their field having been impacted by the tariffs imposed by the United States since 2018, seeing manufacturers move to Vietnam, India, and also exploring Mexico, Latin America, and areas of Africa. Another big concern for Andrew and his wife is the political situation where they feel that “no one can talk freely” anymore in Hong Kong. Andrew said that political freedom, for he and his wife, was highly important and a top priority, further adding to Eat News, “不自由,毋寧死,” which translates roughly as “liberty or death”. “We do not want to live like zombies,” Andrew said.

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The new BNO policy is commonly referred to as “五加一” by Hongkongers, which translates to “five plus one”, a reference to the BNO policy ‘s five years of limited leave to remain before being eligible to apply for settlement, and then British citizenship after one year of having settled status. Andrew hoped that the United Kingdom Government would review this, and simply grant British citizenship, as well as review this to help more young people, who would be excluded due to having no ties to BNO status, or ties to BNO status holders who want to leave Hong Kong.

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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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