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Government announces £43m support for families moving from Hong Kong to UK

The Independent logo The Independent 6 days ago Mayank Aggarwal

HONG KONG, CHINA - FEBRUARY 23: In this photo illustration, the UK Immigration: ID Check app on a mobile phone is seen on February 23, 2021 in Hong Kong, China. The UK government has launched a fully digital process for Hong Kong BN(O) visa applicants. Applicants for the Hong Kong BN(O) visa with certain biometric passports will be able to apply from a smartphone app to scan their passport starting today, Feb 23, 2021. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images) © 2021 Getty Images HONG KONG, CHINA - FEBRUARY 23: In this photo illustration, the UK Immigration: ID Check app on a mobile phone is seen on February 23, 2021 in Hong Kong, China. The UK government has launched a fully digital process for Hong Kong BN(O) visa applicants. Applicants for the Hong Kong BN(O) visa with certain biometric passports will be able to apply from a smartphone app to scan their passport starting today, Feb 23, 2021. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

The UK government on Thursday announced a £43m dedicated support package for families moving from Hong Kong which will focus on concerns such as housing, education and employment.

The announcement made by Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said that families coming from Hong Kong with British National (Overseas) passports will benefit from the fund designed to help them settle successfully into life in the UK.

The programme will help status holders access housing, work and educational support to ensure they are able to quickly integrate and contribute to their newfound communities, said a statement.

TOPSHOT - In this photo taken in Hong Kong on June 3, 2020, Reese Tan, a 25-year old tutor, poses with his British National (Overseas), or BN(O), in his favorite part of the city and the place he would miss the most if he leaves, the bustling shopping and eating district of Mongkok. - Some 2.9 million people -- anyone born before 1997 -- are eligible for BN(O) status and Britain has said its citizenship plan will also include them. In recent weeks Hong Kongers have flocked to sign up, forming queues outside post offices and courier companies to send documents. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) / TO GO WITH FOCUS: Limited British passport now all the rage for fearful Hong Kongers by Su Xinqi (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images) TOPSHOT - In this photo taken in Hong Kong on June 3, 2020, Reese Tan, a 25-year old tutor, poses with his British National (Overseas), or BN(O), in his favorite part of the city and the place he would miss the most if he leaves, the bustling shopping and eating district of Mongkok. - Some 2.9 million people -- anyone born before 1997 -- are eligible for BN(O) status and Britain has said its citizenship plan will also include them. In recent weeks Hong Kongers have flocked to sign up, forming queues outside post offices and courier companies to send documents. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) / TO GO WITH FOCUS: Limited British passport now all the rage for fearful Hong Kongers by Su Xinqi (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

It said that the decision “delivers on the UK’s historic and moral commitment to the people of Hong Kong who chose to retain their ties to the UK by taking up BN(O) status in 1997”.

“It provides them with a pathway to live in the UK should they choose to do so. BN(O) status holders have had their rights and freedoms restricted by the national security legislation imposed by the Chinese government and it is right that we change the entitlements in the UK which are attached to their status,” the statement said.

Mr Jenrick said the programme will ensure BN(O) status holders and their families “have the very best start as soon as they arrive, and support to help them find a home, schools for their children, opportunity and prosperity.”

In this photo taken in Hong Kong on June 5, 2020, Arnold Wong (R), a 24-year old engineering graduate, stands in front of a statue of Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain from 1837-1901, in his favorite part of the city and the place he would miss the most if he leaves, Victoria Park. - Some 2.9 million people -- anyone born before 1997 -- are eligible for BN(O) status and Britain has said its citizenship plan will also include them. In recent weeks Hong Kongers have flocked to sign up, forming queues outside post offices and courier companies to send documents. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) / TO GO WITH FOCUS: Limited British passport now all the rage for fearful Hong Kongers by Su Xinqi (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images) In this photo taken in Hong Kong on June 5, 2020, Arnold Wong (R), a 24-year old engineering graduate, stands in front of a statue of Queen Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain from 1837-1901, in his favorite part of the city and the place he would miss the most if he leaves, Victoria Park. - Some 2.9 million people -- anyone born before 1997 -- are eligible for BN(O) status and Britain has said its citizenship plan will also include them. In recent weeks Hong Kongers have flocked to sign up, forming queues outside post offices and courier companies to send documents. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) / TO GO WITH FOCUS: Limited British passport now all the rage for fearful Hong Kongers by Su Xinqi (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

The announcement follows the creation of a new visa scheme in January 2021 that the UK said would give eligible Hongkongers a new route to full UK citizenship. It is estimated that almost three million residents of Hong Kong either hold or are eligible for the BN(O) document, having registered before the 1997 handover. The UK had said the new scheme could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependents.

Britain’s attempts to extend rights for BN(O) passport holders have irked Beijing, which retaliated by saying it would no longer recognise the documents. Earlier this month, it was reported that the Hong Kong government had also asked some foreign governments to stop accepting the special passports that some citizens use for working holiday visas in Europe, North America and parts of Asia.

Of the £43m, the statement said, “councils in England, who are already playing a key role to ensure BN(O) status holders are warmly welcomed and supported, will benefit from £30.7m to provide targeted support for new arrivals, covering additional English language and support with housing costs for those who need it.”

This picture taken on January 29, 2021 shows online entrepreneur "Ian", who is waiting to see how the Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine pans out in Britain before making a move, posing with his current (top) and old (bottom) British National (Overseas) passports during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong. - A new visa scheme is offering millions of Hong Kongers a pathway to British citizenship as the city's former colonial master opens its doors to those wanting to escape China's crackdown on dissent. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) / TO GO WITH HongKong-China-Britain-politics-migration,FOCUS by Yan Zhao and Mathilde Bellenger (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images) This picture taken on January 29, 2021 shows online entrepreneur "Ian", who is waiting to see how the Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine pans out in Britain before making a move, posing with his current (top) and old (bottom) British National (Overseas) passports during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong. - A new visa scheme is offering millions of Hong Kongers a pathway to British citizenship as the city's former colonial master opens its doors to those wanting to escape China's crackdown on dissent. (Photo by Anthony WALLACE / AFP) / TO GO WITH HongKong-China-Britain-politics-migration,FOCUS by Yan Zhao and Mathilde Bellenger (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP via Getty Images)

While £5.8m will be provided to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver similar services.

According to the programme, £5m will be used to establish 12 virtual welcome hubs across every region in England, and in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to co-ordinate support and give practical advice and assistance in applying for school places, registering with doctors and even setting up businesses.

The UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel called it an “unprecedented and generous scheme.”

“There is no other visa in the world of this nature. We are working hard to successfully resettle people here … I know communities up and down our country will welcome new arrivals with open arms and support them to build a new life in the UK,” she said.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activist Nathan Law, who was elected as the youngest lawmaker in Hong Kong, welcomed the move, while also announcing on Thursday that he has had his application for asylum in the UK approved.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 29, 2020: A goup of Hong Kong citizens protest outside Houses of Parliament in London against the limited rights of British overseas passport holders in Hong Kong on 29 January, 2020 in London, England. Demonstrators call for strenghtening of their rights as BNO's including granting of British citizenship as under the current legistation they are British nationals and Commonwealth citizens, but not British citizens.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images) © Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 29, 2020: A goup of Hong Kong citizens protest outside Houses of Parliament in London against the limited rights of British overseas passport holders in Hong Kong on 29 January, 2020 in London, England. Demonstrators call for strenghtening of their rights as BNO's including granting of British citizenship as under the current legistation they are British nationals and Commonwealth citizens, but not British citizens.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

“It’s an excellent policy and dedication that [will] help many HKers (Hongkongers) to integrate into the UK community. We are grateful for these much need measures,” tweeted Law.

“I hope that my case can help the Home Office understand more about the complicated situation in Hong Kong. To free more protestors from Beijing’s authoritarian oppression, the Home Office could consider more comprehensive evidence when coping with Hong Kong cases,” he tweeted. 

Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 on the promise that its relative autonomy would be maintained, but it has been successively eroded in recent years and in 2020 Beijing introduced a strict national security law that lays emphasis on ensuring the loyalty of the city’s government, leaders and citizens to China.

According to the statement, as of 19 March 2021, approximately 27,000 BN(O) status holders and their family members had applied for a new UK visa since January 2021. The government’s assessment in October 2020 estimated that between 123,000-153,000 BN(O) status holders and their dependants could take up the route in its first year, with between 258,000-322,000 doing so over five years.

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