Oz draws China ire after HK haven offer

Top News | Sophie Hui and agencies 10 Jul 2020

Australia has offered pathways to permanent residency for Hongkongers after the controversial national security law came into effect last week.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Hong Kong students, graduates and workers on temporary visas can stay and work in the country for an additional five years, after which they can apply for permanent residency.

China slammed Australia over the moves.

There are 10,000 Hong Kong citizens in Australia on student visas or temporary work visas, with a further 2,500 outside Australia and 1,250 applications on hand, according to Canberra.

"As a result of changes that have occurred in Hong Kong, there will be citizens of Hong Kong who may be looking to move elsewhere, to start a new life somewhere else, to take their skills, their businesses and things that they have been running under the previous set of rules and arrangements in Hong Kong, and seek that opportunity elsewhere," Morrison said yesterday at Parliament.

New applicants will be given a five-year visa, under the condition that they fulfill conditions in skills and talents.

For students, they were given two years to stay after the end of their study. Now it has been extended to five years.

Former students on a temporary graduate visa can extend their visas for five years from now on, in addition to the time they have already spent in Australia.

But Morrison said the country "is not expecting large numbers of applicants any time soon."

Australia also suspended the extradition agreement with Hong Kong and updated its travel advice for the city.

New Zealand is also reviewing its relationship with Hong Kong because of the new law, foreign minister Winston Peters said, "including extradition arrangements, controls on exports of strategic goods, and travel advice."

Australia's foreign minister Marise Payne said China's moves with the country's so-called "Five Eyes" security partners - New Zealand, the United States, Britain and Canada.

Australia's Level 4 "do not travel" advisory to Hong Kong was in place due to the pandemic, but the government added a warning about the national security law.

"The [law] could be interpreted broadly," the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said, warning its nationals that they could be deported or face possible transfer to mainland for prosecution.

"The full extent of the law and how it will be applied is not yet clear. You may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined national security grounds. You could break the law without intending to." it said.

"If you're concerned about the new law, reconsider your need to remain in Hong Kong."

Beijing urged Australia to change course and stop interfering in its internal affairs.

"The relevant remarks and measures announced by the Australian side seriously violate international laws and the basic principles of international relations, and they are a gross interference in China's internal affairs," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

"China will not accept it. We strongly condemn this and reserve the right to take further actions. All consequences will be borne entirely by the Australian side."

Australia is the second country to offer Hongkongers an escape plan. Britain said it will allow British National (Overseas) passport holders to live and work in the country for five years before they apply for settled status. After a further 12 months with that status, they can apply for citizenship.

The plan applies to about 350,000 BNO passport holders, while another 2.6 million others are eligible.

sophie.hui@singtaonewscorp.com

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