What is Hong Kong’s New Immigration Law?

A new amendment bill to Hong Kong’s immigration law that gives authorities seemingly unlimited powers to stop people from leaving and entering the city has sparked concerns amongst activists, lawyers, and the business community.

The government has clarified that the new law is aimed only at asylum seekers as the city battles with a growing backlog of applications and does not impact freedom of movement. However, experts have cautioned that the bill’s broad wording gives the government the authority to stop people from boarding planes to and from the region without the need for a court order.

Concerns have been voiced  that the city could adopt “exit-bans” similar to those employed by mainland China to prohibit individuals from leaving the country. However, Beijing has firmly denied these allegations, and denounced them for “misleading the public with ill intentions and creating conflict in society”.

As an international hub, the business community of Hong Kong has also raised apprehensions over the new law with worries that this could impact the comings and goings of business individuals. Hong Kong’s Security Bureau has clarified that freedom of travel is protected in the city’s constitution and therefore did not need to be made explicit in the new bill.

China’s Increasing Assertiveness

Aside from the bill’s ambiguous wording, China’s increasing assertiveness over the semi-autonomous city has given rise to tension in Hong Kong.

Months-long protests took place in the city over an extradition bill that could see Hong Kong residents extradited to mainland China, as well as China’s new national security law. The national security law banned secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers and has been used to arrest and detain pro-democracy activists.

Critics have questioned whether China’s recent actions run contrary to the 1997 agreement with Britain, which saw Britain  relinquish control of its former colony. Under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong was handed back to China, which would however need to abide by a “one country, two systems” principle to afford the city freedom of speech, assembly and association (amongst other liberties) for at least 50 years.

British National (Overseas) Passport

Thanks to the city’s historical ties to the United Kingdom and to the availability to certain Hongkongers of British National (Overseas) citizenship, some Hongkongers have flocked to the nation for support.

Established in 1985, the special nationality allows residents to retain links to the UK. While the status doesn’t automatically afford the holder rights to reside in the UK, starting from 31 January 2021 BN(O) passport holders and their families were given the opportunity to live and work in the UK for a period of up to five years, which then grants eligibility for settled status. After an additional year, holders of the passport can apply to become UK citizens.

Hongkongers who did not hold British National (Overseas) citizenship,  have had to look elsewhere.

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