5,000 HK citizens said to have applied for new UK visa

LONDON • Nearly 5,000 Hong Kong citizens have applied for visas to live, work and study in the United Kingdom since changes that make it easier for people in the Asian financial hub to be granted entry, The Times newspaper reported.

About half of the 5,000 applications were from Hong Kongers already in Britain, The Times reported, citing sources. Those people had already been offered temporary settlement for fleeing China’s security crackdown while waiting for the visa change.

Britain changed its visa application programme late last month, allowing Hong Kong residents who hold a British National Overseas (BNO) passport to live in the UK for five years and eventually apply for citizenship.

It made the visa changes after Beijing’s imposition of a controversial national security law in Hong Kong last year. China and Hong Kong have said they will no longer recognise the BNO passport as a valid travel document from Jan 31.

Britain and China have been arguing for months over what London and Washington say is a bid to silence dissent in Hong Kong after pro-democracy protests in 2019 and last year. Britain says it is fulfilling a historic and moral commitment to the Hong Kong people after Beijing imposed the security law on the semi-autonomous city that Britain says breaches the terms of agreement under which the colony was handed back to China in 1997.

The UK government has forecast the new visa could attract over 300,000 people and their dependants. Beijing said it would make them second-class citizens.