The UK’s offer of visa and settlement routes for residents of Hong Kong Contents

1The introduction of the national security law in Hong Kong, and its consequences

Introduction of the new national security law

1.On 30 June 2020 a new security law, passed by the Chinese Government, came into force in Hong Kong.

2.The wide-ranging law makes it easier to punish protesters and reduces the city’s autonomy.1 Some key provisions of the new law include that:

3.The organisation Human Rights in China said that the Chinese authorities “pursued an unusually swift process in drafting and promulgating” the new law: the formal decision authorising drafting of the law was only adopted a month previously, on 28 May, and the authorities held 10 consultations with 120 individuals from various sectors of the Hong Kong public.3

4.The details of the law’s 66 articles were kept secret until it was passed. Only a handful of people had seen the full text of the law before it was enacted and this did not include the territory’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam.

Use of the law

5.Following the law coming into force on Wednesday 1 July 2020 thousands of protestors took to the streets in Hong Kong. The police response included the use of water cannon, pepper spray, and tear gas. According to the Hong Kong Free Press, the police reported that as of 10 pm they had made 370 arrests, ten of which were for offences related to the new security law.4 International media cited a police report that one of the ten was a 15-year-old girl who was waving a Hong Kong independence flag.5

6.On 29 July 2020 Human Rights Watch reported that in the first month after the new security law came into force Hong Kong police had invoked it at least four times during pro-democracy protests.6

7.On 30 July four students aged between 16 and 21 were arrested for “organising and inciting secession” on social media in what the BBC reported was the first police operation to enforce the new security law. A representative of the new national security unit within Hong Kong police said that the individuals had set up an organisation which advocated for Hong Kong independence. The students formerly had links to a pro-independence youth group.7

8.On 31 July it was reported that police in Hong Kong were seeking the arrest of six pro-democracy activists living in exile on suspicion of violating the new security law by inciting secession or colluding with foreign forces.8

9.On 10 August the business tycoon Jimmy Lai—who has UK citizenship and has been a prominent supporter of pro-democracy protests—was arrested along with two of his sons and two executives of his media company, and saw the offices of his newspaper Apple Daily raided, over allegations of collusion with foreign forces.9 Other reporting noted that the news directors of two broadcast stations, iCable and NowTV, had recently been replaced10 and that the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong had said several international media outlets (including the AP, AFP and Reuters) had had difficulty getting visas for correspondents in Hong Kong.11 In September the Hong Kong Police Force announced revisions to media access rules restricting access to press briefings and restricted areas for journalists from news outlets not officially recognized by the government, following which only government-registered and “internationally known” foreign media would be permitted access.12

10.In October the Financial Times reported that the Hong Kong Monetary Authority—the statutory authority for banks in Hong Kong for which membership is compulsory—had advised banks (both local and international lenders) to report any transactions suspected of violating the national security law to police. The document posted by the HKMA said reporting obligations under the law would be triggered when a bank “knows or suspects that any property is offence-related property”.13

11.On 5 November 2020, Hong Kong police launched a new multi-platform hotline for the public to report suspected violations of the national security law. Members of the public can share intelligence related to national security matters via SMS, email and WeChat (a popular messaging app in China).14

12.The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has reported to Parliament, from local media reports, that in the period July–December 2020 forty people were arrested under the national security law, four of whom were charged with national security offences.15

The international response

13.A joint statement issued by Australia, Canada, the US and the UK in May 2020, prior to the law coming into force, condemned the Chinese Government’s actions, saying the proposed laws would undermine Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” framework.16

14.In June 2020 86 NGOs wrote to the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC)17 urging the NPCSC to reject the planned legislation as they were “concerned about the law’s impact on Hong Kong, especially its vibrant civil society”:

People’s Republic of China law conceptualizes “national security” in such a broad manner that peaceful activists, human rights lawyers, scholars, ethnic minorities, journalists and netizens are detained, charged, and imprisoned for years—sometimes for life—for vaguely defined crimes such as “subversion,” “inciting subversion,” “splittism,” and “leaking state secrets.” The law’s expected prohibition on “foreign intervention” is another vague term that could apply to any group or individual perceived to be interacting with those outside Hong Kong.

15.As well as highlighting the legislation’s incompatibility with the Basic Law (the constitutional agreement at the 1997 handover) the letter noted how it failed to abide by existing human rights law:

International human rights standards such as those found in the Johannesburg and Siracusa Principles set out that “national security” cannot be invoked to justify restrictions on rights and freedoms unless to protect a state’s existence or territorial integrity against the use or threat of force. A state cannot use national security as a reason to impose limitations on rights to prevent merely local or relatively isolated threats to law and order. A state must not invoke national security as a justification for measures aimed at suppressing opposition to human rights violations or at perpetrating repressive practices against its population.

It added that:

Any national security law must be accessible, unambiguous, and formulated narrowly and with precision, so as to enable individuals to foresee whether a particular act is unlawful. [ … ] Without the requirement to comply with international human rights law, these vague terms leave the proposed law open to abuse by authorities to crack down on a wide range of rights and freedoms.18

16.In July a coalition of rights organisations said that the national security law “sets out broad prohibitions encapsulating an ill-defined array of “conduct” and “activities” that can include the peaceful exercise of fundamental rights”, and does not stipulate what specific activities would merit the harsh penalties which the law allows. It stated that the law “stands in stark contrast to the experiences of and rights guaranteed to Hong Kong people” and “reflects a profound disdain for the protections afforded under international human rights law”.19

17.On 30 July a coalition of 17 independent organisations and scholars, including Human Rights Watch, Hong Kong Watch and Human Rights in China, wrote an open letter to the foreign ministers of 40 international governments20 setting out policy options governments should pursue to preserve human rights in Hong Kong while imposing penalties on those curtailing them.21

18.The letter called on governments to, amongst other things, publicly and unequivocally condemn the national security law and refuse to enable or cooperate with its extraterritorial application; and to adopt mechanisms to enable people from Hong Kong to find safe haven.22

The UK’s response and introduction of a new visa route

19.The Prime Minister said that the passing of the new security law was a “clear and serious breach” of the 1985 Sino-British joint declaration (a legally binding agreement which set out how certain freedoms would be protected for the 50 years after China assumed sovereignty in 1997): “It violates Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and threatens the freedoms and rights protected by the joint declaration”.23

20.As a response, the Prime Minister announced in July 2020 that almost 3 million citizens of Hong Kong who hold British National (Overseas) status (BN(O) status) would be given the right to remain in the UK, including the right to work and study, for five years. After this they would be able to apply for settled status and, after a further year, seek citizenship.24

Our inquiry

21.We decided to conduct a short inquiry into the introduction of the new Hong Kong visa route, to explore its effectiveness in providing support to Hong Kongers with BN(O) status and to consider the UK Government’s preparations to receive and integrate new arrivals from Hong Kong.

22.In view of the provisions of the national security law we took evidence for this inquiry in private, and the individuals who gave evidence to us did so anonymously. We are very grateful to them all for sharing their experiences with the Committee.

23.On the day of our hearing, 6 January 2021, police in Hong Kong arrested 53 people for alleged violations of the national security law after they had “helped run an unofficial “primary” to pick opposition candidates ahead of postponed 2020 elections”. Among those arrested were opposition figures, young campaigners, human rights lawyer John Clancey, who is a US citizen, academics, and candidates from the primaries.25 Such developments show the continuing seriousness of the situation and the importance of the issues covered in this report.

1 A translated and annotated version of the law has been produced by Human Rights in China, and Human Rights Watch has summarised its main powers; Human Rights in China, HRIC annotated bilingual chart of The Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, 5 July 2020; Human Rights Watch, ‘China: New Hong Kong Law a Roadmap for Repression’, 29 July 2020

6 Human Rights Watch, ‘China: New Hong Kong Law a Roadmap for Repression’, 29 July 2020

10 China Digital Times Beijing tightens control over Hong Kong broadcast media, 28 September 2020

15 UK Government, Hong Kong six monthly report July - December 2020, 10 June 2021 p9

17 The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) is the body which, along with the National People’s Congress (NPC), exercises the legislative power of the state in China. It oversees the election of the NPC and has the power of judicial interpretation of the law in China. It is led by a Chairman, China’s top legislator, who is the third most senior political figure in China, after the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese Premier.

20 All 27 European Union member states, Australia, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.

Published: 7 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement