105,000 Hongkongers start new lives in UK since BN(O) visa
At least 105,200 Hongkongers have arrived in the United Kingdom since a new route to British citizenship began almost two years ago, the government revealed for the first time on Thursday, as a brain drain from the city continued unabated.
The British government figures released on Thursday showed 10,100 Hongkongers applied for the visa programme in the fourth quarter of last year taking the total to 160,700 almost two years since its launch on January 31, 2021, up until December last year. About 96 per cent of them – or 153,708 – were approved.
“One hundred five thousand and two hundred people have arrived in the UK on the scheme since it began,” said the British Home Office in its quarterly immigration update.
It added that 11,000 individuals arrived in Britain between October and December last year.
The number of Hongkongers who applied for a pathway to British citizenship remained unchanged in the fourth quarter of last year compared with the previous three months which had the fewest applications since the British National (Overseas) visa scheme was launched in January 2021.
Almost all of the applications in the fourth quarter – 83 per cent – were filed from outside Britain and the remainder were made from inside the United Kingdom. There were 6,400 main applicants, with 3,700 dependents.
Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu acknowledged an emigration wave that has created a brain drain in his policy address last October, noting the local workforce had shrunk by about 140,000 over the previous two years.
The government unveiled ambitious measures to encourage talent to move to the city, such as offering two-year visas to graduates from the world’s top 100 universities with at least three years of working experience.
Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai, an expert in population health at the University of Hong Kong, said almost every sector needed more people, especially IT workers and teachers. He believed if the government addressed the concerns of those departing the city, it would help attract foreign talent.
“There are some overlapping issues that we need to address like education, housing and the whole societal environment, whether it is inclusive,” said Yip, the associate dean of the university’s faculty of social sciences.
“[The government should] invest in our young people, create more opportunities and address their concerns, which will slow down the departure of our talent and attract foreign talent, too,” he added.
Margaret Szeto, the founder of migration consultation company Aura Global, said the arrival of more than 100,000 Hongkongers in Britain aligned with her observations that a “significant number” of her clients had already migrated, with 80 per cent of them parents attracted by the education system.
Szeto attributed the drop in applications in the third and fourth quarters, the lowest since the scheme opened in January 2021, to other lifeboats available, such as in Canada and Australia.
“Additionally, many Hong Kong migrants who have already settled in the UK have reported issues such as frequent strikes, serious price inflation, and the negative impacts of Brexit. These factors have contributed to the decline in BN(O) visa applications,” she said.
An estimated 5.4 million people out of Hong Kong’s 7.5 million population are eligible for the scheme, which allows successful applicants and their dependents to live, work, and study in Britain for up to five years, after which they can apply for citizenship.
Britain launched the visa after Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong, which the UK described as a “clear and serious breach” of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that laid out the conditions for the city’s return to Chinese rule.
Canada and Australia have also offered “lifeboat” settlement schemes to Hongkongers in response to the sweeping legislation.
In the wake of the 2019 anti-government protests, Beijing imposed the security legislation in June 2020, banning acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers.