Beijing’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong last summer prompted the UK government to announce a new visa scheme, allowing those in the city with British National Overseas (BNO) passports a way out for good. It has left many here pondering a simple question: to stay or to go? So far, about 5,000 people have applied, both at the city’s British Consulate and remotely, for those already in the UK. Many others, perhaps those still in Hong Kong who are more reluctant to appear in person, patiently waited until yesterday when a new app for the travel scheme was made available online.
The UK Immigration: ID Check app quickly became the one of the most downloaded free titles in Hong Kong’s Apple Store. Its popularity indicates how many people are toying with the decision to leave. Among them is John (not his real name), a former civil servant who moved to London in December. His BNO entitles him to stay in the UK for six months at a time but he’s hoping to be granted a visa, to make the move permanent. He left Hong Kong to avoid pledging loyalty to the city’s government. “Had I stayed and not pledged allegiance, I would have been deemed unsuitable to serve and eventually I would have been fired,” he tells The Monocle Minute.
And he’s not wrong: China announced a new set of restrictions on Hong Kong’s electoral system yesterday, requiring pledges of allegiance from district councillors and other office holders in an attempt to sift out candidates who are deemed disloyal to the Communist Party. “There’s the internet term ‘little pink’, which is often used to describe jingoistic young Chinese nationalists,” says Colby Lam, a soon-to-be father of four who is also considering leaving. “These people were taught to wholeheartedly trust and respect the government. We don’t want our kids to turn out that way.”
Karina Tsui is a journalist based in Hong Kong and a regular contributor to Monocle. Listen to her new five-part series ‘Leaving Hong Kong’, playing throughout this week on ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.