Democratic Party fights for Hong Kong protesters to get status to flee to Britain

The Democratic Party calls on Britain to fast track Hong Kong BN(O) holders’ citizenships and create sanctuary conditions for Hong Kong protesters who currently lack status in the UK.

Photo: Democratic Party press conference regarding the BN(O), 17 June, 2020, courtesy of Cyril Ma.

“This isn’t just something I’m saying now. I said it over thirty years ago to Maggie Thatcher.”

Former Democratic Party (DP) chair, Emily Lau, sent a letter, on behalf of the DP, to British Home Secretary Priti Patel regarding local concerns and demanding further expansion of BN(O) holders’ privileges. 

Under current UK immigration laws, holders of BN(O) passport holders, of which there are an estimated 350,000 valid BN(O) holders with another 2.5 million eligible for application, can visit the UK without a visa for up to six months but are restricted in their right to work, live and study. 

“Our position…is [that] the UK government has a responsibility to the Hong Kong people – of course, in particular, the holders of the BN(O) passports,” says Ms Lau. She was flanked at the event by district councillors Ramon Yuen, Edith Leung and Douglas Tsang.

In response to China’s planned backdoor implementation of the National Security Legislation through Annex III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced earlier this month an expansion of BN(O) privileges to include the right to work, live and study in the UK and an eventual pathway to citizenship – if the controversial legislation is passed. 

Not Citizens Yet

Under the proposed scheme, BN(O) holders will still not be considered full citizens. They will have the right to work, live and study for up to two years with possible extensions. After five years of residency and a further year without immigration restrictions, they will be allowed to apply for citizenship. 

Lau and her party call for a blanket upgrade of BN(O)s to British Citizenship, saying that it is a “lifeboat” that benefits both the UK government and Hong Kongers. 

“I think many people do not want to leave Hong Kong,” says Ms Lau. 

“They live in Hong Kong, they are happy but now they are terrified of being arrested by the Communists and being taken back to Mainland China for trial and being locked up and tortured or disappeared.”

She also adds, “We fear these things will happen to us. But if they can have the citizenship in their pocket, they will stay until things go very wrong…So we certainly hope, and we will continue to put this point to the British government, [that] it’s far better to do it like this [rather] than require people to up stakes and move there and open a bank account and live for five years”.

Expansion and Clarification for the Masses

“The Democratic Party welcomes the Prime Minister’s remarks, but thinks the ambiguous statement cannot engender confidence in the Hong Kong people,” reads the DP’s letter.

A recurring theme in both the letter and conference was the issue of young people born after 1997 who had taken part in the pro-democracy protests but would not be eligible for a BN(O) passport. The letter to Patel hopes that the British government will “[o]ffer assistance to people…arrested because of the Carrie Lam administration’s political prosecution”.

The BN(O) status was exclusively available for application during a short window between 1985 and 1997; it was not possible to apply for a BN(O) after that period. 

A suggestion from the DP letter writes that “another system…to look after people born after 1997” should be created. In a similar vein, the Democrats also called on the UK to expand BN(O) rights for those who were born before 1997 but were minors whose parents did not apply on their behalf. 

However, even for those eligible, the online BN(O) renewal process is fraught with potential pitfalls that make it difficult for Hong Kongers looking for a way out. Sham Shui Po district councillor Ramon Yuen noted a constituent with the surname ‘O’ who could not proceed with his application because the application website deemed the surname incorrect. 

Others found themselves unable to provide information on ancestry as applicants found documents on parents and grandparents missing. This issue was especially pertinent for families with roots in Mainland China or Macao where documents might not have even been given in English, if at all. 

Democratic Party press conference regarding the BN(O). Photo courtesy of Cyril Ma.

Retaliation from China

The conference also addressed fears that the Chinese Government will take away the right of abode and the right to vote to Hong Kongers who take up the BN(O) expansion. 

“I have not heard any Chinese mainland official say that,” says Ms Lau, “But they have said there might be countermeasures”.

Kwun Tong District Councillor Edith Leung says, “It will be very difficult legally for the Chinese government to take countermeasures, for example, to take away our right to stay in Hong Kong or vote in Hong Kong.” 

“According to the current nationality law, even if you are holding a BNO passport, [you] cannot renounce your Chinese nationality.”

Ms Leung argued that if China takes away the Right of Abode in Hong Kong, that it might require a change in nationality law that allows Hong Kongers to renounce Chinese citizenship in favour of BN(O) status. 

“It [the ability to renounce Chinese citizenship] might be welcomed by a lot of Hong Kong people.”

When asked whether there might still be support for BN(O) holders should China rescind the National Security Legislation, Ms Lau responded:

“When the deal was signed with the Communist Party, the Hong Kong people were not consulted. We were just handed over to Communist rule in 1997… If the Communist Party decided not to force the law, that is, of course, welcome [as] we don’t think they should do that – but still we hope that the British government will understand that they have this responsibility for the Hong Kong people.”

Printer: R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong

the author

Cyril is a freelance writer from Hong Kong with an interest in local culture and identity. He obtained his degree in Music and Drama from the University of Birmingham with a dissertation on Hong Kong and Macau’s musical culture and identity. Outside of writing, Cyril is heavily involved in the local performance arts scene.