THE number of Hong Kong residents applying for a path to UK citizenship fell 44 per cent in the third quarter, showing that demand for the programme is waning almost two years after it was created in response to China’s crackdown on dissent.
Some 10,100 British National (Overseas) passport holders applied for the special long-term visas between July and September, data released Thursday (Nov 24) by the UK Home Office showed. That represents the smallest number in a three-month period since London began taking applications in January 2021.
The UK has so far received 150,600 visa applications under the BN(O) programme, slightly less than halfway to the 320,000 that the government estimated would apply in the first five years. About 98 per cent of applications have been approved.
Then-prime minister Boris Johnson’s government announced the visa after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the former British colony in June 2020. Johnson described the legislation as a “serious breach” of the UK’s handover agreement with China, while Beijing in turn accused London of violating a promise not to lure away the city’s residents, and stopped recognising the passports.
The BN(O) exodus contributed to Hong Kong’s biggest population decline in at least six decades, a trend fuelled by the security law and Covid curbs that have slowed travel into and out of the Asian financial hub. The city saw a decrease of 121,500 residents in the year that ended on June 30, leaving the population at about 7.3 million.
The recent fall in BN(0) applications coincided with mounting concerns about inflation in the UK, although the period largely predates the fiscal turmoil that crashed the pound and forced former prime minister Liz Truss to resign after just 44 days. Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee has been rolling back Covid curbs since taking office in July, making international travel easier.
The UK government from October has expanded the pathway to citizenship to include those born after 1997, the year Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule, and those who have at least one parent with BN(O) status. BLOOMBERG