London, Jun 3 (efe-epa).- The United Kingdom will change its immigration laws to offer Hong Kongers a “route to citizenship” if China passes a controversial new security law, Boris Johnson said Wednesday.
The British government has previously said it considers the planned legislation a “violation” of Beijing’s international obligations that would harm the freedoms of the city’s inhabitants.
Johnson has now said he would have “no choice” but to uphold ties with the former British colony, which was returned to China in 1997.
The prime minister wrote in an article in the Times newspaper on Wednesday that Hong Kong citizens who hold British National (Overseas) passports would be allowed to live in the UK for up to 12 months without a visa, an extension from the current period of six months.
Chinese authorities gave the green light to the controversial law last week, which would make it a crime to challenge the central government.
It could also allow Chinese security forces to operate in Hong Kong and carry out repressive techniques, something activists fear would harm the freedoms enjoyed by the semi-autonomous city.
Around 350,000 people in Hong Kong have a BN(O) passport and it is estimated another 2.6 million citizens are entitled to it.
The passports were granted to citizens of the territory before it passed to China and gives them certain foreign policy rights but does not allow them to work or live permanently in the UK.
London is considering granting Hong Kongers other advantages, such as employment rights, which Johnson said “could place them on a route to citizenship”.
He said the new immigration law “would amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history”.