This story is being published as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. It originally appeared on scmp.com on May 28, 2020.
Hongkongers with BN(O) passports will be able to obtain British citizenship if China enforces the national security laws in the city, the British government announced on Thursday, marking a dramatic shift to London’s long-held policy.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Home Secretary Priti Patel made the move on the day China’s top legislature, the National People’s Congress, announced the decision to impose national security legislation on the former British colony.
British National (Overseas) passports were issued to Hongkongers born before the 1997 handover, and under current rules, passport holders can visit the UK for up for six months but cannot work or apply for citizenship. As of December, 300,000 Hongkongers held a BN(O) passport.
Raab said Britain was now ready to change this rule.
“If China continues down this path and implements this national security legislation we will change that status, and we will remove that six-month limit and allow those BN(O) passport holders to come to the UK and to apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months, and that would itself provide a pathway to future citizenship,” Raab told reporters.
“In the meantime we urge China to step back from the brink and live up to its responsibilities as a leading member of the international community,” he added.
Raab’s plan was echoed by Patel, who was understood to have been more supportive in the past of BN(O)-holding Hongkongers than Raab.
Johnny Patterson, director of the London-based Hong Kong Watch group, said the British government should be prepared to take more action for Hongkongers.
“If things deteriorate further, the UK will need to consider extending the scheme beyond 12 months, up to and including right of abode, and encourage other international partners to create a lifeboat scheme to ensure all Hongkongers, including those born after 1997, have a lifeline,” Patterson said.