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An open door to Hong Kong would be madness


THE government is considering allowing some three million Hong Kongers holding or entitled to British National (Overseas) (BNO) passports to settle here whenever they so choose.

The proposal was characterised as a response (threat?) to China should it impose national security laws on Hong Kong in contravention of the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984 by Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping.

As our recent Migration Watch briefing paper explains, this path to settlement for nearly half the population of the former colony was casually mentioned to journalists before an announcement in the House of Commons on June 2. 

This is the latest illustration that the government have lost the plot on immigration.

First there was the panic over Windrush, following which immigration enforcement all but stopped. (The impact of Windrush on enforcement was highlighted by the Chief Inspector of Immigration in this 2019 report.).

Then there was the absurd idea, not yet entirely abandoned, of a mass amnesty for illegal migrants (our petition against this last year – closed early due to the General Election – gained tens of thousands of signatures).

The cross-Channel shambles was next and continues – this concerns predominantly young men from Iran and elsewhere from the Middle East who need only to utter the word ‘asylum’ and hey presto, they are here to stay, legally or otherwise. See our briefing paper on this topic, and make sure you visit our Tracking Station regularly. 

And the government’s proposal for a post-Brexit immigration policy, about which I have written before in TCW, will follow the Immigration Bill now going through Parliament.

That system itself is laden with risks and pitfalls which could substantially increase immigration from around the world. And it was devised before the devastating effects of the lockdown on the economy and the skyrocketing unemployment that is in train.

And now, settlement for Hong Kongers, perhaps the most significant loosening of immigration control of all.

It seems the PM is well aware of the significance of the BNO proposal, for he wrote in the Times that this ‘would amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in history’, a step that the British government would willingly take.

The BNO passports are travel documents that the British government granted only to Hong Kong, and only to those born before the 1997 handover. The deadline for applying for BNO status was June 30, 1997, but it seems there is a chance that this will be retrospectively removed.

A BNO passport does not, at present, grant a right to live in the UK. It does allow the holder to visit for up to six months without applying for a visa. Dominic Raab told Parliament that, should the Chinese government continue ‘down its current path’ and act illegally – in contravention  of the Sino-British Joint Declaration – the UK would permit the document to be used for a visit of twelve months; it would be renewable and would permit applications for work and study. This would become a pathway to full British citizenship. It would also lead to access to the welfare state, health and education; holders would already have the right to vote in general elections. All this is being justified by claiming it upholds the rights granted under the Joint Declaration. The JD did not of course grant any such rights.

Nobody knows what proportion of the three million Hong Kong citizens will come to Britain. Some might choose to go to North America, Australia, New Zealand or Taiwan. Clearly, that is what the government is hoping will happen. In reply to one MP in the House of Commons Mr Raab said that ‘we are already discussing with our partners – I raised it on the Five Eyes call yesterday – the possibility of burden-sharing if we see a mass exodus from Hong Kong. I do not think that that is likely in the last analysis . . . we are on the case diplomatically’. This raises the question, so why are we making the offer?

It is impossible to overstate the risk inherent in what amounts to a huge gamble. It is worth recalling Tony Blair’s catastrophic miscalculation over the EU accession of the eight Eastern European states when a maximum of 13,000 per year were expected to come. In the event, more than one million workers from Eastern Europe arrived between 2004 and the end of 2009 – an average of around 200,000 a year.

Other countries will take some but we appear to be offering an open door to three million people, equating to the 2019 populations of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Edinburgh added together. Why? This is 15 times the number of work visas granted each year to non-EU citizens, and 100 times the number of Asians who came from Uganda in the early 1970s. All this as unemployment in Britain shoots up post-Covid.

Then there is the question of who is going to pay for all the additional housing, medical facilities, school and infrastructure needed for three million extra people. The newcomers will contribute, of course, but nothing like enough to finance such a massive investment in infrastructure.

It is not even clear how all this is going to help the people of Hong Kong. If it leads to a significant outflow of the population, it will weaken the opposition there. As one MP put it parliament on June 2: ‘Is there not a danger that allowing so many people to leave is actually exactly what Beijing wants?’  Indeed, this would, surely, suit the Chinese government very well as they could easily replace those departing while ridding themselves of the thorn in their side.

It is an extraordinarily ill-conceived policy which, it seems, the government intend to push through. They are being given an easy ride by the opposition parties. Lisa Nandy, the shadow Foreign Secretary, has described the government’s policy as ‘an important first step in fulfilling our longstanding obligation to the people of Hong Kong’. The Liberal Democrats are calling for all 7.4million Hong Kong citizens to be offered the right to live in the UK. It is hard to imagine a more ludicrous suggestion. Ms Nandy seemingly glosses over the fact that Labour were in office for 13 years following the handover. Why did her party not act in that time to fulfil the obligation?

Offering a path to settlement for three million people conditional on the behaviour of China’s government is a massive hostage to fortune and another reckless gamble with the future of our country and the welfare of its inhabitants.

What has happened to all the arguments of the need to moderate immigration and election promises to reduce it? If this policy is implemented, we really can say goodbye to any prospect of lower immigration. That’s for sure.

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Alp Mehmet
Alp Mehmet
Chairman of Migration Watch UK, former British diplomat.

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