Hong Kong residents will be able from Sunday to apply for the special visa program offered by the U.K. that will enable them to live, work and study in the country for five years — with a possible path to citizenship.
- The program, announced last year, has been denounced by China as a violation of international law and an interference in China’s domestic affairs.
- The U.K. government observed last year that the vote of a new security law increasing the powers of Beijing in Hong Kong was a violation of the 1997 handover agreement.
- The program is open to an estimated 3 million residents with British National (Overseas) status and their dependents, but the U.K. Home Office estimates that a little over 300,000 Hong Kongers will take advantage of it in the next five years.
- “I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BN(O)s to live, work and make their home in our country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday.
- China said on Friday that it would no longer recognize the validity of the BN(O) passport as a travel or identification document.
- A Bank of America report has estimated that the program could cost Hong Kong some £36 billion in capital outflows.
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The outlook: The need to queue up at a visa center may deter some applicants, considering the crackdown on gatherings in Hong Kong, but at the end of February an app will allow candidates to submit their request more confidentially.
In the short term, the implementation of the long-announced U.K. decision is likely to heighten tensions between London and Beijing. But if the program is successful, it could provide a welcome boost to the U.K. economy, hit by the departure of more than 700,000 foreign workers in the last few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit.
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