Hong Kong

Senate Bill Would Grant Refugee Status to Hong Kong Protestors

The legislation cuts lots of red tape surrounding the visa process.

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Five senators introduced a bill Tuesday that would grant priority for refugee status to Hongkongers fleeing government persecution or arrest.

The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act was sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.), Todd Young (R–Ind.), Robert Menendez (D–N.J.), Benjamin Cardin (D–Md.), and Jeff Merkley (D–Ore.). 

In addition to granting priority status for visa applications, the legislation would allow Hongkongers to get nonimmigrant visas even if they plan to immigrate and would keep applicants eligible even if their Hong Kong residency is revoked. More notably, Hong Kong residents would be exempt from the existing visa quotas, which ordinarily create fierce competition among visa applicants.

The bill's beneficiaries are currently limited to Hongkongers actively involved in recent protests. Specifically, it covers protest organizers, first-aid responders, journalists, lawyers, and members of their direct families.

The bipartisan bill comes in response to Hong Kong's new "national security" law, passed on Tuesday, which introduced a slew of restrictions on activists' rights to assemble and protest.

The United States "must help Hong Kongers preserve their society at home and find refuge for those who face persecution," Rubio said in a statement. "Through the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, our nation would offer a safe-haven to many Hong Kongers who have tirelessly fought against tyranny."

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D–N.J.) introduced a companion bill in the House on Tuesday. It would expedite the immigration process for skilled Hongkongers and the residency process for Hong Kong already here.

In addition to helping Hongkongers flee political persecution, a relaxed visa policy could initiate a massive "brain drain" that would see Hong Kong's skilled labor force flee totalitarian rule for U.S. soil en masse, argues Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake. Similar policies have bolstered economic growth in the past. According to Forbes contributor Scott Beyer, the Mariel boatlift revitalized Miami through increased entrepreneurship while accelerating the Cuban regime's decline.

The bill's scope pales in comparison to the measures taken by the United Kingdom, which announced this week it would grant up to 3 million Hongkongers residency and a path to U.K. citizenship. But the legislation marks a promising first step toward a more comprehensive plan to help Hongkongers caught in a brutal crackdown.

Bonus video: Check out Reason's documentary on letting Hongkongers come to America:

Hong Kong China Human rights Immigration Protests