US bill aiding fleeing HK protesters up for a vote

Top News | Mandy Zheng 7 Dec 2020

Mandy Zheng

The US House of Representatives could pass a bill offering protected status for Hongkongers fleeing political persecution as soon as today.

Congressmen are set to vote on the Hong Kong People's Freedom and Choice Act of 2020, which promises temporary protected status for Hongkongers who are in the United States and fear persecution if they return to the SAR.

Successful applicants can remain in the country legally and obtain work permits.

Ten countries designated for protected status include Syria, Yemen and Honduras among others. Now the bill, introduced by Democrat Tom Malinowski and Republican Adam Kinzinger, seeks to put Hong Kong on the list.

Those who had "a significant role" during the SAR's anti-government protests including event organizers, participants, first aiders and journalists who fear persecution would be covered by the bill.

The bill also proposes to speed up the processing of Hongkongers' refugee and asylum applications and to treat them separately from Chinese nationals during immigration procedures.

The House of Representatives has given the bill the status of being noncontroversial so it will be processed quickly with debate limited to 40 minutes before voting. If passed it will go the Senate.

The Hong Kong Democracy Council, a Washington-based activist group, yesterday urged US citizens to contact congressmen to support the bill, which it called "the most impactful and immediate measure to protect Hongkongers targeted for fighting for their democratic freedoms."

In July, congress was swift in passing the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which provides legal grounds for Washington to impose sanctions on Chinese and SAR officials considered to have violated Hong Kong's autonomy.

Meanwhile, only eight Hongkongers seeking help from the Taiwan-Hong Kong Services and Exchanges Office had been granted work permits up to last month, Taipei's China Times reported.

Established on July 1, the office is tasked with handling cases of Hongkongers who want to relocate to Taiwan or seek asylum. It was set up after authorities cited threats brought by the national security law that went into effect on June 30.

The office had received some 1,700 inquiries by the end of November, the Mainland Affairs Council's deputy minister Chiu Chui-cheng said last week.

Chiu also pledged to keep improving measures to help people fleeing Hong Kong and to streamline procedures.

The China Times said the eight Hongkongers being allowed to stay in Taiwan had obtained work permits under the Employment Service Act, which grants the right to work to "a refugee permitted to stay."

There are no restrictions on pay or the type of job and employers are exempted from paying employment security fees - a requirement when someone hires foreign workers.

While Taiwanese officials have voiced support for Hong Kong protesters and dissidents, they have made it clear their backing will be restricted to those who have entered Taiwan in a lawful way, meaning doubts about the status of those smuggled to the island.

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