Hong Kong residents are likely to move to the UK faster than the British government has anticipated, and more should be done to prepare for their arrival, a new advocacy group has said.
HongKongers in Britain (HKB) surveyed city residents hoping to emigrate under a new British government scheme that opens in January, allowing those with colonial-era British National Overseas (BNO) status to obtain visas and pursue a “path to citizenship”.
The Home Office has already said it expects nearly half a million people to take up the offer over its first three years, but HKB said the number could be more than 600,000.
Around three-quarters of those planning a move hold university degrees and earn salaries well above the city’s average, so will be well positioned to contribute to the British economy. But few have family in Britain and only half have friends here, so they may need help settling and integrating. Three-quarters plan to travel with children, so schools need to be prepared for an influx of students, the group said.
Four out of five of those surveyed want to come in the next two years, quicker than anticipated by the UK government.
“The speed in terms of how soon they want to come to the UK or leave Hong Kong [is] quite astonishing,” said Rikkie Yeung of HKB. “Many will come soon, very soon. The majority, 80%, were planning to emigrate, leave Hong Kong, within two years.”
Britain’s plan for a path to citizenship was drawn up in response to a national security law passed by Beijing this summer, which has been used to crush dissent in Hong Kong across politics, academia and the media.
The survey of those hoping to use it to emigrate was not a random sampling of city residents, because migration to the UK is politically sensitive. China has condemned the policy and threatened to stop recognising the BNO passports and take other “countermeasures”.
Instead, HKB looked for survey participants on social media channels, where it has a strong following. Over 300 people participated anonymously.
There have been predictions of a brain drain as many in the city consider the UK’s visa offer or emigration to other countries including Canada and Australia. Around 3 million people in Hong Kong, or nearly half the city’s population, are eligible for British national (overseas) passports, and they would be able to travel with dependants.
Those who wanted to come to Britain overwhelmingly said their main motivation for uprooting their lives and moving halfway around the world was political pressure.
“Ninety-six per cent consider Hong Kong no longer a safe and free home that they are used to living in, after the passing of the national security law,” the HKB report said.
Nearly all see their move as a step towards citizenship, with 93% hoping to apply when they are eligible after five years’ residency.
A small proportion of those hoping to move have been arrested for their role in pro-democracy protests since 2019. Although criminal records are often a bar for visas, Hongkongers in Britain called for UK authorities to use discretion in cases of applicants charged with political crimes.
Several respondents to the survey said they worried about surveillance by Chinese security forces, even in the UK. The group called on British authorities to consider excluding groups who could “harm national security”, such as Hong Kong police and officials, from the visa scheme.
It also called for an expansion to cover those who do not have BNO status but are in need of a safe haven, including younger protesters born after the 1997 handover from British colonial rule, or whose parents do not hold BNO status.