Oz smooths way for HK's best and brightest

Finance | Maisy Mok 6 Aug 2021

The Australian government has begun fast-tracking visa applications lodged by residents of Hong Kong with BN(O) passports.

Aussie media Special Broadcasting Service reported that priority will be given to both Hong Kong SAR and BNO passport holders applying for temporary and permanent skilled visas ahead of other groups.

Australia's Department of Home Affairs confirmed to the public broadcaster that the BNO passport is covered in the special visa measure that offers Hong Kong tertiary-graduated students and skilled workers a five-year temporary stay visa that can lead to a pathway to permanent residency.

Before that only Hong Kong passport holders were eligible for the special visa measure.

A spokesman for the Australian home affairs department said that for BNO passport holders who already had a temporary work visa or graduate visa by July 9 last year, their visa has been automatically extended for five years until July 8 in 2025.

People who obtained a visa after July 9 last year can also temporarily stay for five years and have a pathway to apply for permanent residency.

By January, a total of 2,584 Hong Kong passport holders had their Australian visas extended through the scheme.

When asked why the change, an Australian government spokesman said it was a necessary amendment to a migration regulation which states that a Hong Kong passport means a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China passport.

Australia is still hammering out the details for how to apply for permanent residency after the five-year special visa has ended.

SBS reported last Friday that the Australian government had begun fast-tracking Hong Kong skilled visa applications starting from July 7.

James Paterson, an Australian senator, said the move to fast-track applications is to attract "the best and brightest" from Hong Kong and make it easier for those already in Australia to stay if they wish.

"Hongkongers are entrepreneurial, creative and have more than demonstrated their commitment to the values of liberal democracy," Paterson wrote on his Facebook page.

"This decision is not just in Australia's national interest, it's also the right thing to do after the Chinese Communist Party broke its promise to protect the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong."

Hong Kong International Alliance, a Brisbane international student group, said up to 40 percent of the 200 Hong Kong students studying in Australia will give up their SAR passports because of the special visa measure that offers a permanent residency pathway.

Benny Cheung Ka-hei, director of Goldmax Immigration Consulting, said the move to cover BNO passports in the special visa measure seems like an attempt to promote the scheme as it does not have a huge impact on the existing scheme.

"Everyone from Hong Kong has an SAR passport," he said. Cheung added that the latest announcement had attracted only two people to consult his agency.

The special visa scheme launched by Australia is the least popular compared with the ones launched by the United Kingdom and Canada, he said.

That is because the current requirement for getting accepted for a permanent residency is too high as the talent that Australia seeks is constantly changing.


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