Cost of emigrating HKers to UK too high

By GT reporters Source: Global Times Published: 2020/7/7 20:58:40

British citizenship for Hong Kong BNOs may not be feasible

A street in Central, Hong Kong Photo: VCG

The idea of providing British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders in Hong Kong with access to British citizenship makes big political noise but would have little practical outcome, especially as the British economy has been devastated by Brexit, the ongoing pandemic and a high unemployment rate. Emigrating to the UK would only mean greater costs of living and future career risks for BNO passport holders, experts and Hong Kong residents said.

The comments came after the UK government suggested it would offer 3 million Hong Kong residents access to British citizenships by changing BNO rules if China implements the new security law for the city, which they claimed violates the freedoms of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).

The new immigration route would extend the stay limit for BNOs from six months to five years, giving them the right to live and work in the UK for longer, according to a UK government report on July 1. After five years, they would have to wait another 12 months before applying for citizenship.

However, the UK government's move may fall to an empty promise as BNOs would be exposed to increased risks such as unemployment, insufficient medical care and education opportunities compared to existing British citizens during their stay in the UK, analysts said. 

Thomas Yeung Kwan Ho, deputy dean of the Futian School of Finance, told the Global Times on Monday that the six-year path to citizenship would come with great uncertainties in a foreign state, with the possibility of higher taxes.

"There are initial costs such as visa fees and healthcare for migrants, as well as opportunity and production costs. And then, after five years of spending in the UK, there is no guarantee that citizenship status will be achieved as there are other screening conditions," he said.

Ho said that given the costs and uncertainties attached to the citizenship, the "new route" does not appeal to him at all.

"This might be more attractive to the younger generation born in the 1990s or 2000s, who have no experience or money, but these people are not qualified to apply," Ho said.

Noel Shih, chairman of Young DAB, told the Global Times that although he is qualified to apply for BNO status, he has not done so and would not consider emigrating even if he were able.

"The UK itself has great competition for jobs. If a large number of Hong Kong people go to the UK to compete with locals for jobs, would they be welcome?" he asked.

"Besides, emigration itself is not a practical consideration, since many jobs in Hong Kong pay more than those in the UK, and white-collar management workers who go to the UK and have no local experience would have to do grassroots labor work," Shih said, noting that the lack of welfare guarantees in the first five years of residence could also be an issue.

There could also be discrimination against Chinese people in the UK, Shih said.

Edmund, a Hong Kong resident who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed that the UK's BNO measure is not likely to be meaningful for many qualified to apply. 

"The UK is an expensive country. Why would people want to take the risk of emigrating to a country which likely offers fewer career opportunities?" he asked.

The number of unemployed in the UK rocketed to 2.1 million in April, rising by 856,000 in the largest monthly increase since 1971, according to the country's Office for National Statistics. Experts predicted the unemployment rate would double to 8 percent, the Guardian reported in May.

Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday that as the UK has yet to leave the EU and the pandemic is ongoing in the country, its economic expectations are hard to assess.

The UK government's BNO announcement was more of a political gesture than a concrete action, Chen Xin, director of the economic division of the Institute of European Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday. That is because one of the motivations behind Brexit was the impact of immigration on the UK's domestic job market. 

"The UK says 3 million are able to apply, but it doesn't say who the 3 million are and whether they are high-income earners or not," he said, noting that the potential impact on the UK's labor and property markets is also unknown.

The announcement of the BNO plan has also given rise to questions and doubts from British netizens. 

"2.9 million extra people entering the UK from Hong Kong during the UK's biggest increase in unemployment. What could possibly go wrong?!" a netizen named Andy Spoo said on Twitter.

There are currently 350,000 BNO passport holders but a further 2 million are eligible to apply, the Guardian reported on June 14.

The British government's approach to BNO rules is in breach of its commitment with China, further deteriorating what have become bumpy China-UK relations, experts said.

"This is a serious breach of the UK's commitment and a grave violation of international law and the basic norms of international relations. China strongly condemns this and reserves the right to take further actions, the consequences of which shall be borne by the British side," said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian at a press conference on July 2.


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