LONDON (Reuters) – Britain on Thursday expanded the criteria for its visa programme for people in former colony Hong Kong to allow adult children of eligible residents to apply independent of their parents.
In response to new security laws introduced in Hong Kong, Britain last year opened a new visa programme allowing almost three million people to apply for a five-year British visa and eventually offering them a route to citizenship.
The scheme is open to those with British National (Overseas) status and their dependents. BN(O) status was brought in under a 1987 British law that specifically relates to Hong Kong.
Last November, the government said it had received 88,800 applications for the BN(O) route between its introduction on Jan. 31 up to Sept. 30.
Britain said the programme was designed to fulfil a historic and moral commitment to the people of Hong Kong after it accused China of breaking the terms of the agreement under which the colony was handed back to Beijing in 1997.
China has criticised the scheme, saying it would make those who have applied for visas second-class citizens.
The government said it was expanding the criteria for the scheme to address what it said were unfair outcomes, which left some young adults unable to apply while older siblings were eligible.
“The government has made the decision to enable individuals aged 18 or over who were born on or after 1 July 1997 and who have at least one BN(O) parent to apply to the route independently of their BN(O) parent,” the interior ministry said in a written statement.
Under the original rules, those aged between 18 and 24 were unable to apply independently.
A British parliamentary committee had previously warned that many in this age group had been active in anti-democracy protests and were therefore vulnerable under the new Hong Kong security laws.
(Reporting by William James; editing by Michael Holden)