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‘Hong Kong citizens fleeing to Britain in mass, More than 100,000 apply for new visa

LODDON – For nine months Adrian Leung and his family have been packing their lives in Hong Kong in search of a brighter future in Britain.

The 51-year-old teacher was to move to Canada with his wife and son, fleeing political turmoil at home. But when Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government announced a new visa system that gives Hong Kong citizens the right to reside – and become a citizen – in the UK, he said his choice was clear.

“Compared with the Canadian system, the terms of the British system are very low: We just need to stay in the country for five years. For me, it is very easy.

Many in Hong Kong are outraged by what they see as China’s interference in the autonomous region because of a new national security law passed in June 2020.


The law, aimed at preventing sectarianism and overthrowing state power, has been widely criticized by Western governments and human rights activists for violating the “one country, two systems” policy when the former British colony was transferred to China in 1997.

That prompted Britain to offer asylum to those born in Hong Kong prior to its dedication. Although it is not clear how many are left due to security law, the British asylum application came to that purpose and was timely. The UK has said it will help those born in Hong Kong before its dedication, citing “China’s failure to fulfill its international obligations toward Hong Kong.”

For my son's future, I thought we should go.
Adrian Leung

A spokesman for the Hong Kong information department said it “hated and opposed” the UK visa application, and the Chinese ambassador to London said the plan “interfered with Hong Kong, China’s internal affairs.”

China has dismissed allegations that the law undermines local freedom, saying it was a necessary step to quell the unrest that plagued Hong Kong in 2019.


Leung, one of his persecuted students and, in some cases, imprisoned for protesting, is one of the tens of thousands of Hong Kongers who immigrated to Britain last year.

“For me, after June 2019, it seemed that Hong Kong would not be under the law,” Leung said, referring to the start of the protests. “For my son’s future, I thought we should go,” he told CNBC.
Britain welcomes more than 97,000 Hong Kongers

The British National (Overseas), or BNO, visa program was presented prominently in January 2021, when Johnson announced his pride in a program designed to honor “deep British historical and friendly ties with the people of Hong Kong.”

The UK government said at the time that the program would open a door for an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 Hong Kongers (though up to 5.4 million eligible) and generate up to £ 2.9 billion ($ 3.9 billion) in major economic benefits. UK. five years.


In the 12 months since then, the U.K. received 103,900 applications for a visa scheme, which gives owners and dependents five years to stay in the form of citizenship. More than 97,000 applications have been successful so far, according to data released Thursday by the UK Home Office.

Most of the applicants are highly skilled and work in professional or administrative roles.

In a survey of 500 visa applicants, the home office found that seven out of ten (69%) had studied university and three-quarters (76%) had professional jobs. Almost all (96%) were working age, two out of five (21%) were under 35 years of age.

The findings suggest that the UK government will succeed as it seeks to position itself as a magnet for international talent, as it closes its doors to EU workers after Brexit. However the knowledge of Hong Kong immigrants who spoke to CNBC has been enormous.
Personal and financial price


While BNO visa holders recommend the speed and simplicity of processing applications (usually about six weeks), some say the personal cost of making the move was high – not least financially.

A five-year visa costs £ 250 ($ 340) in addition to the NHS mandatory £ 3,120 for adults and £ 2,350 for children. The family of four can expect to pay £ 11,940 before they enter the United Kingdom.

That as Britain faces its worst living costs for decades amid rising prices for housing, food and energy.

Leung and his wife sold their house, earned a pension, and used their savings to finance the move to Britain. They recently bought a house in Durham, northeast of England, but not everyone has been so fortunate.


A BNO visa holder, who spoke to CNBC anonymously for fear of reprisals or being targeted by his new British counterparts, arrived in Nottingham, England, in December 2020 – at the height of the UK’s coronavirus closure.

The source quickly found himself in the grip of 22; you cannot rent a home without a bank account and you cannot open a bank account without a home address.

After six weeks on Airbnb, the 45-year-old finally found a landlord who would provide him and his family with a place to stay for six months’ rent. His pension, however, is still being kept in Hong Kong under dispute.

“Money or income is not a priority for us,” said a source, who left his nursing job permanently in Hong Kong with his wife in search of “democracy, law, freedom and respect.”


The Chinese embassy in London and the Hong Kong information services department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Exchanging professional security for political stability

Like many other talented Hong Kong immigrants in Britain, the source found himself sacrificing financial and employment stability for the sake of political security. He now works under a hospital contract while his wife works part-time in a warehouse.

“I’ve had a gap in my life over time,” he said, adding that he and his family used the money to support themselves.

At the time, CNBC’s second source found itself well-qualified for most of the available jobs. University teacher with Ph.D. decided to leave Hong Kong when the “human rights situation deteriorated” to the point that it endangered the future of her children and her mental health.


After six months of “nightmares” for employment, the 51-year-old found a part-time job in a popular suburb of central London, where he worked at night.

“If I had no children, my thinking would be different because, by coming here, I have had to give up everything – work, money, friends, position,” said a second source, who did not want to be identified.
Social stability

BNO visa holders are not eligible for social benefits, except under extreme circumstances. Instead, the government has said it has set aside £ 43 million for rehabilitated Hong Kong people scattered, including support for housing, employment and education.

Although a second anonymous source said that better provisions could be made for the sudden arrival of Hong Kong workers, he still considered himself “lucky.”


A few weeks after arriving in June 2021, he found a place for his 14-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter at a “beautiful state school” outside London, where he and his wife lived with a friend.

“My first goal was to help the children become accustomed to it. It turned out that they were better prepared than I was, ”she noted, adding that her children soon settled into local friendly groups.

One year after the start of the program, competition for school vacations intensified. Reports suggest that some schools, especially British high schools, are required to expel Hong Kong students during enrollment and interest. Some three-thirds of BNO visa holders coming to Britain are married or have long-term partners, while two-thirds have children.

“We are fortunate to resolve it early,” admitted the first anonymous CNBC source. “It can be very difficult for new entrants – especially to find school places.”
Prospects for a bright future


Despite the challenges, BNO visa holders who spoke to CNBC said they were grateful for the program, which, although not obligatory, was the “responsibility” of the UK government. Above all, they recommend a hope for a brighter future.

“After coming here, my son enjoys more freedom, [including] the freedom to run,” says Leung, adding that he and his family are well-acquainted with the lifestyle, living, and work environment of Durham.

A very high rate of 96% of BNO visa applicants say they have no plans to return to Hong Kong, according to Home Office data. BNO visa holders are eligible to apply for permanent residence and permanent leave to stay after five years at a cost of £ 2,389. Next year, they can apply for British citizenship for £ 1,206.


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