A pathway of no return to Britain?

Editorial | Mary Ma 4 Jun 2020

Britain's undertaking to open the door to British National (Overseas) passport holders from Hong Kong with a pathway to citizenship raises a serious question for China.

How will Beijing handle the challenge?

The central government has not yet spoken up. However, in light of the mainland's strict nationality law that forbids double nationality, it could predictably retaliate with threats to strip BNO passport holders of not only their Chinese nationality, but something even more serious than that.

Would Beijing restrict some of the rights associated with their right of abode intrinsic to their place of birth? This is not totally unimaginable and is a risky prospect that BNO passport holders may have to be prepared for if they take a flight out of the SAR searching for a job and a new life in Britain.

It's regrettable that "immigration" has become the most searched keyword here since Beijing voted last week to impose the national security law on Hong Kong during the two sessions of the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

There's a sense of deja vu: back in the early 1980s, many people panicked when the question of Hong Kong's future was brought up in negotiations.

It's often said that history doesn't repeat itself readily - but does it?

Yesterday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ran an article reiterating that - should Beijing proceed with its security move in the SAR - his government would allow BNO passport holders from Hong Kong to enter Britain for an extendable 12-month period during which they can work.

On the face of it, it's a stark contrast to what London did - or did not do - for Hongkongers during the negotiations decades ago.

At that time, Margaret Thatcher's government quietly stripped British Dependent Territories citizens in the former colony of their right to move to Britain by replacing the older BDTC passports with the BNO variety. Many felt betrayed.

It was revealed later that the immigration curb was made as part of London's promise to Beijing.

As Johnson spoke, there was still a thick cloud of skepticism on whether this would be just more lip service - or merely old wine in an old bottle.

Assuming Johnson will indeed open the door, it will still be a lengthy process before anyone from Hong Kong will be allowed to settle for good in Britain.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the "escape route" would lead to a pathway to citizenship. But in the absence of details, it can only be assumed that - at best - it would converge with existing immigration schemes that could take at least five years.

A big question is whether the British government will change its immigration rules following Brexit, with anyone applying to settle in Britain as a skilled worker having to score enough points tied to education and work skills. Furthermore, applicants may be required to secure a job in advance.

Will BNO passport holders from Hong Kong be subject to the same criteria - or will they be exempt from all, or some, of the requirements? This is not yet known.

According to Johnson, BNO passport holders will be given one year - and this is extendable - to find a job after entering Britain. With a job, they're expected to start the lengthy journey to permanent residency.

This won't be plain sailing, and is worth monitoring.

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