U.K. prepares for mass immigration from Hong Kong

Foreign Affairs

The U.K. expects around 300,000 Hongkongers to apply, over the next five years, for a new visa for those with British National Overseas (BNO) status. Beijing retaliated by saying it would not recognize BNO passports, but this appears to be an entirely symbolic gesture.

British National Overseas (BNO) passports and Hong Kong passports. Reuters/Tyrone Siu.

As soon as Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong last summer, the U.K. reacted by saying it was prepared to grant preferential immigration status to millions of Hongkongers. 

  • Any resident of Hong Kong who was born before the 1997 handover to Chinese sovereignty and registered for British National Overseas (BNO) status, Britain said, would be eligible to apply. 
  • This was estimated to account for nearly 3 million out of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million population, but the exact scope and details of the immigration process were unclear last year. 

The U.K. has now officially opened the door to 5 million Hongkongers to apply to become British citizens, the Wall Street Journal reports. About 2.9 million Hong Kong residents have BNO status, and 2.3 million dependents would be eligible to accompany them if they applied for the new visa for Hong Kong BNO status holders

  • The U.K. “estimates around 300,000 people will move from Hong Kong to Britain in the next five years,” the WSJ says, putting that into context:

That would dwarf the existing Hong Kong born population in the U.K., which a 2011 census put at just over 100,000. The visa offer is open to about 70% of Hong Kong’s population and could trigger capital outflows of $75 billion from Hong Kong over five years, estimates Bank of America Corp.

In retaliation, Beijing said that it would no longer recognize BNO passports — a separate document held by around 350,000 Hongkongers — but this appears to be an entirely symbolic step. Holding a passport is not a requirement to apply for the BNO visa, and as the AP points out, “Many Hong Kongers carry multiple passports and it is unclear what if anything the Chinese government could do to prevent people entering the U.K. through the BNO visa plan.”