Earlier this year, the U.K. government began a visa system that gives millions of people from Hong Kong the opportunity to live and work in the U.K., and, potentially, apply for British citizenship.
The scheme, which has been in place since Jan. 31, allows those with British National Overseas (BNO) citizenship — a type of British nationality created in 1985 — and their close family to apply for two periods of five years to stay in the U.K., according to the BBC.
Yet, on Monday, government sources told the Times that they’re “aware” of sleeper agents applying for the visas under the pretence of seeking refuge from the one-party country.
According to Insider, it’s not clear if any have been able to enter the U.K. as a result.
“There are stringent background checks for the applications — and they’re in place for a reason,” an unnamed source told the Times, adding that the vetting process for the visa scheme is “much more thorough than any other.”
In June 2020, following months of unrest, China unveiled details of its’ national security law, which made anything Beijing regarded as subversion, secession, terrorism or colluding with foreign forces punishable by up to life in prison.
By July, the government had arrested numerous protestors under the legislation.
As the Times reported, more than 300,0000 people have applied for the visa since the U.K introduced it. The British government has estimated that 5.4 million Hong Kong residents are eligible for the visa — about 72 per cent of its 7.5 million population.
According to the Daily Mail, official papers predict the visa scheme could bring an overall economic benefit to Great Britain — between £2.4 billion and £2.9 billion over five years, mostly in tax revenue.
Hong Kong applicants will be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the U.K. after their first five years, meaning, they can live and work without reapplying for a visa.
After one year of that status, they’ll then be able to apply for British citizenship, reported the BBC.
Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden offered temporary “safe haven” to Hong Kong residents in America, allowing thousands to extend their stay. In a memo, the president cited “compelling foreign policy reasons” for his decision, writing that the People’s Republic of China had undermined its “remaining democratic processes and institutions.”
“The United States will not waver in our support of people in Hong Kong,” wrote Biden.
Hong Kong was handed from the U.K. to China under the Sino-British Joint Declaration agreement, which stipulated that China would respect the territory’s capitalist system and rule of law for 50 years. The arrangement is know as “one country, two systems.”