Since mass protests swept Hong Kong in 2019, Beijing has been executing a repressive political crackdown, including the imposition of the controversial National Security Law (NSL), which is deliberately vague and essentially criminalises any dissent against the government. It has been widely criticised around the world, with a number of countries, including the UK, creating visa pathways for Hongkongers at risk of being targeted.
While the NSL is Orwellian in itself, it has also heralded the arrival of a new political environment, with thousands facing charges related to the protests and the wider pro-democracy movement. Last year, Beijing also imposed widespread electoral change on Hong Kong, only allowing ‘patriots’ loyal to the ruling Communist Party to stand for office. As a result of these changes, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and courts are now a façade of justice and autonomy.
Fortunately, countries like the UK stepped up to protect many of those most directly impacted by this draconian legislation. The end of January marks one year since the British National (Overseas) visa scheme was introduced to allow Hongkongers to settle in the UK. Since it came into law there have been almost 90,000 applications, demonstrating that the scheme is a valuable lifeline for those fleeing authoritarianism. The Government has also committed a £43 million support package to help them settle and integrate. It’s money well spent, given that it’s estimated Hongkongers will increase revenue for the Exchequer in the range of between £5.3 and £6.7 billion.
The BN(O) visa scheme is a truly excellent policy of which this government – and the UK as a whole – should be proud. It demonstrates the best of British values of inclusivity, internationalism and support for the most vulnerable. However, while it is positive that so many Hongkongers have already been able to move to the UK, there is more that needs to be done to ensure that they are able to transition smoothly into British life.
Many of those making the move are qualified professionals who could fill desperately needed places in industries like teaching, health and dentistry. So far, the effort to integrate these individuals into the workforce has not been good enough, with many finding their career paths blocked by arbitrary regulations, unnecessary bureaucracy and misinformed governing bodies.
There are also many Hongkongers aged 19 and above who are keen to access post-16 qualifications vocational training. These are courses that allow people to upskill and contribute more to the economy – benefiting both themselves and the UK as a whole – but Hongkongers must currently wait three years before they are eligible.
In addition, there is currently an age cut off for the visa, meaning those born after 1997 are not able to access the BN(O) visa scheme. Given the protest movement was made up overwhelmingly of young Hongkongers who are therefore most at risk of being targeted by the authorities, this seems like a glaring omission.
The Government took a bold stance and defended the human rights and freedom of Hongkongers by opening the BN(O) visa scheme. Now, one year on, we must finish the job and work to ensure that Hongkongers can settle, thrive and contribute to the UK.
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