Some stick to emigration plans despite risk of Beijing's anger

Top News | Erin Chan, Sophie Hui, Amy Nip 28 Jan 2021

A 23-year-old social worker says she is not scared of Beijing retaliating against those who emigrate to Britain as she intends to leave on a one-way ticket to London.

From January 31, British National (Overseas) passport holders will be eligible to stay in Britain for five years, at which point they can apply to settle if requirements are met and eventually seek permanent citizenship.

The rules also allow family members of BNO passport holders to apply for emigration to Britain and they may move there at different times.

But speculation that Beijing will launch policies to counter the measure is brewing, such as stripping those who pursue British nationality through the BNO scheme of their Hong Kong permanent residency along with their voting rights, and barring them from working as civil servants.

"I am not scared, and I will not come back to Hong Kong," said social worker Windy, an alias.

She said her decision is a buildup of things that have made Hong Kong unrecognizable, including Beijing's tightening grip over the city.

"One or two years ago, you would not expect Hong Kong's political situation to rapidly worsen. But right now, disagreeing with the government could lead to prosecution," Windy said.

She thinks Hong Kong's rule of law is at its end, freedom of speech has been restricted and the SAR is becoming another mainland city.

Windy has set her sights on Manchester, north of England, because it has a big Hong Kong community and where the cost of living is low. She added: "I may work in retail or as a coffee barista when I arrive before seeking ways to switch back to my original career as a social worker.

Windy, who is taking a barista course, also wants to accelerate plans to get married to partner Tess.

The British policy is open to BNO holders and their immediate family members, including the spouse or partner and children under 18, even if they are not BNO holders themselves.

In another case, a nurse named Rebecca plans to go to Britain by the end of March with her husband, who is a management-level nurse.

She said: "We had wanted to go via investment immigration. But then the British government announced the BN(O) pathway, so we decided to try this instead."

Rebecca said they were granted permission to emigrate to Singapore as professionals in 1997 but they ended up not moving.

She added: "We pretended that nothing happened in Hong Kong. While there was no major problem back in 1997, it's not the same this time. There are way too many problems." She said her daughter studied in a British university.

Even with the risk of retaliation from Beijing and the pandemic, Rebecca said she will stick to her long-term goal of enabling her other family members to emigrate. "The Covid-19 outbreak is serious in Britain, but the political situation and rule of law in Hong Kong made us even more worried," she said. "So, no, we're not worried about the pandemic there. Freedom is more important."

Australia is also a popular choice as immigration consultants have seen a surge in nurses emigrating there last year.

Florence Tang Yi-ting, managing director of immigration consultancy firm Eversharp International, said she has seen 60 to 70 nurses migrating or looking to migrate to Australia last year, compared to only a few people in 2019.

"It's simpler for nurses to emigrate there now," she said. "Due to Covid-19, there is a labor shortage in the medical sector so the required points for a visa is lower than before."

Although there could be more nurses quitting Hong Kong in the future, the president of the Hong Kong College of Nursing, Ellen Ku Wai-yin, said new graduates will enter the industry.

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