5,000 get jump on Britain’s visa-to-citizenship scheme

Almost 5,000 Hongkongers have applied for Britain’s visa route that can lead to citizenship after five years since the scheme launched at the end of last month, reports said.

Hongkongers can apply for the British National Overseas visa which offers up to 5.4 million locals a five-year visa and a path to full British citizenship.

A British government source said about half of the 5,000 applications were received from Hong Kong people already in Britain who have been granted with a temporary resettlement scheme, according to British newspaper The Times.

The scheme – named “Leave Outside the Rules” – offers people who flee to the United Kingdom before the BNO visa opened last month a temporary settlement for up to six months.

Approximately 7,000 BNO status holders and their dependents were granted entry under this temporary resettlement scheme from last July 15 to January 13 this year.

“Sources said they had expected a ‘big bang’ of applications when the scheme opened, with many having prepared their paperwork to be submitted immediately,” The Times report stated.

A spokesperson for the British consulate-general in Hong Kong said it will not provide a running commentary on applications. He added: “As with other immigration routes, these figures will be part of our regular Home Office statistics that we publish quarterly, these will be published in May.”

The British government previously estimated the scheme would attract up to 153,700 people to Britain in the first year and up to 322,400 in five years.

Peter William Walsh, a migration researcher from the Migration Observatory at University of Oxford, predicted that the number, at the current rate, would be around 145,000 by the end of the year.

Hong Kong’s last governor Chris Patten said the existing number of applications shows Hongkongers’ concern on their freedoms having been taken away at a time when many moderate advocates for democracy are being tried.

But the chairman of Migration Watch, Alp Mehmet, said the BNO visa scheme would add further pressure to Britain’s public service.

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