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Hong Kong visa scheme must include vulnerable young people and integration support – Home Affairs Committee

7 July 2021

The Home Affairs Committee has welcomed the Government’s introduction of the British National (Overseas) visa route for Hong Kongers impacted by new security laws, saying it is an important expression of the UK’s historic commitment to support the citizens of Hong Kong.

However, the Committee warns there is a gap in the scheme for a group of young people who face the greatest problems as a result of the new security laws, and also calls for further action to support integration and ensure that Hong Kongers arriving in the UK are able to study, work and participate in community life in the UK.

The Committee warns that loopholes in the scheme could mean that young people aged between 18-24 who were born after the handover on 1 July 1997, and who make up a significant number of pro-democracy activists and so may be especially vulnerable to political targeting under the new security law, may not be eligible for the scheme even if their parents have BN(O) status.

The Committee is concerned that this gap in the scheme will leave vulnerable young Hong Kongers at risk, and urges the Government to extend the scheme to enable a young person with a BN(O) parent to apply separately, provided there is evidence of that parent’s status.

The Committee also calls for increased practical focus on integration and cohesion once visa holders arrive in the UK. It calls on the Home Secretary to appoint a new BN(O) Resettlement Panel that works with local authorities, new residents and civil society groups to help visa holders settle into study, work and civil and community life here in the UK.

The report also highlights concerns that visas could be refused to people with politically-motivated criminal convictions relating to free speech or peaceful protest in Hong Kong, which would not be considered offences under UK law. The Committee calls for the establishment of an expert casework team within the Home Office to process complex BN(O) applications.

The Government’s efforts to increase the accessibility of the scheme by setting a low visa fee were welcome, however, the Committee is concerned that the upfront nature and scale of the additional Immigration Health Surcharge will not be affordable for some BN(O) visa holders, particularly young people. The Committee urges the Government to introduce alternatives such as means-tested fee-waivers, delayed or reduced payments for Hong Kongers to whom the cost is a significant barrier.

Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Rt Hon Yvette Cooper, said:

“The Government’s decision to provide a route to safety for people in Hong Kong at risk of political persecution is an important recognition of the historic commitments the UK made and the gravity of the situation in Hong Kong now.

This is an important and welcome scheme, but the Committee is concerned that there is a loophole for 18 to 24 year olds which means that vulnerable young Hong Kongers who have taken part in pro-democracy demonstrations will be at risk because they may not be eligible for the scheme. The Government should close that loophole to ensure that young people have a route to safety here in the UK.

Individuals and families arriving from Hong Kong will contribute to our economy and enrich the life of our communities. It is essential that the Government now works with local authorities to provide Hong Kongers with a smooth and supportive process of integration into our communities.”

Further information

Image: PA