Hongkongers: where to go from here?

We look at options now the National Security Law has come into effect

Foreign governments have pledged to further extend immigration rights for Hong Kong’s residents. Following the National Security Law coming into effect on Wednesday, we look at what the current options are for Hong Kong residents. By Nat Cheung.

According to a survey conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong last October, 42.3% of Hong Kongers want to move abroad permanently, out of which 23% had already started planning their move.

There may be another wave of mass migration out of Hong Kong, not unlike the period after the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and before the 1997 handover back to China, in the near future.

What are the options?

🇬🇧 1. The UK

As Hong Kong’s former colonial power, the UK has been especially proactive in its response to the new law. Many citizens born before 1997 had claimed British National (Overseas) passports, which will make the immigration process easier following new measures proposed by the Prime Minister.

Up to 3 million passport holders will be able to come to the UK for five years, and after a further year, they will be able to apply for citizenship.

China has condemned this pledge, saying that such a move would ‘breach…international law’ and pressure them to ‘take corresponding measures’.

The foreign secretary Dominic Raab has admitted on ITV that there is little Britain could do to ‘coercively force’ China to oblige, and “ultimately we need to be honest that we wouldn’t be able to force China to allow BNOs (British National Overseas passport holders) to come to the UK.”

🇺🇸 2. The US

Hong Kong is a key pressure point in the prolonged trade war between the US and China. In addition to recent legislation allowing for sanctions, it is possible for America to induce a brain drain out of the city through immigration policy.

On Wednesday, the US Congress introduced a bipartisan bill which would grant Priority 2 Refugee status to Hong Kongers “who peacefully protested Beijing’s corrupt justice system, and have a well-founded fear of persecution.”

If Beijing revokes the residency of Hong Kongers for applying for refugee status or a US visa, then those individuals will remain eligible for refugee status as victims of political persecution as well.

Nonetheless, Trump’s restrictive immigration policy, along with China’s vow to put visa restrictions on US individuals “who behave egregiously on Hong Kong-related issues”, are significant obstacles to the passing of this bill.

🇨🇦 3. Canada

Canada has been a favoured immigration destination for Hongkongers since the late 80s, with large populations concentrated in Vancouver and Toronto.

“This is probably going to be the greatest human capital harvest in recent memory,” says Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland as he predicts that the new law will drive many young, educated professionals to Western countries.

Currently, the government has only updated its online travel advice, which reads, “You may be at increased risk of arbitrary detention on national security grounds and possible extradition to mainland China.”

🇹🇼 4. Taiwan

In May, President Tsai Ing-wen became the first government leader anywhere to pledge measures to help Hong Kong people fleeing Chinese controls.

Just this Wednesday, Taiwan set up the Taiwan-Hong Kong Services and Exchange Office which will help Hong Kong asylum seekers, and “further support democracy and freedom in Hong Kong” according to the senior minister.

🇦🇺 5. Australia

The PM Scott Morrison has said that his cabinet is working on a scheme to provide safe haven to Hong Kongers, although they are yet to finalise the details, including whether the scheme would include a pathway to citizenship.

Australia and other partners were previously asked by the UK to consider “burden-sharing if we see a mass exodus from Hong Kong”.