Hong Kong

Britain Is Granting Record Numbers of Passports to Hongkongers. America Should Take a Hint.

America has undone its longstanding policy of granting special treatment to individuals with Hong Kong passports at exactly the wrong time.


In October, Britain's Passport Office granted an average of five passports every minute to residents of Hong Kong—each one a potential lifeline to someone fleeing China's crackdown on the formerly autonomous city.

More than 216,000 residents of Hong Kong received "British National (Overseas)" passports during the first 10 months of 2020, according to data obtained by Bloomberg from the British government. More than 59,000 were issued in October alone. Both of those figures represent huge increases over annual norms.

In July, Britain upgraded the status of those special "BNO" passports, which are available to Hongkongers because of the territory's historical ties to the British government. Now BNO passport-holders are allowed to relocate to Britain for up to five years and have access to a path to full-time U.K. citizenship. The new rules were passed in direct response to China's crackdown, especially the June passage of a national security law allowing the central government to clamp down on civil liberties.

China has criticized Britain for opening its doors in this way, but the U.K. deserves praise for acting quickly and decisively in defense of freedom. Bloomberg's reporting certainly suggests that demand is surging for this escape route.

It is shameful that America has not stepped up to do something similar.

Hongkongers currently have few options for coming to America. They can seek political asylum in the United States—and an executive order signed by President Donald Trump in July does reserve more spots on the refugee list for people fleeing Hong Kong—but to claim asylum one must be physically present in the United States. That, in turn, requires having another type of visa in order to get on a plane across the Pacific. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has slashed the number of political refugees the country will accept: just 15,000 during the current fiscal year, down from 85,000 in 2016.

Britain issued nearly four times as many BNOs to Hongkongers in October as the number of refugees America will accept from the entire world this year.

What could America do instead? Some members of Congress have proposed a bill to automatically grant asylum to any resident of Hong Kong who arrives in the United States and to exempt those numbers from the official refugee counts set by the White House. A more robust idea, proposed by Matt Yglesias in May, would be to grant a special visa allowing Hongkongers to settle in American counties where the population is shrinking, with permanent residency granted after five years.

"An influx of skilled migrants from Hong Kong would benefit many American communities," wrote Yglesias, then a senior editor at Vox. "The specter of tens of thousands of people fleeing Chinese rule for American shores would be a tremendous propaganda victory for the United States."

China's loss would be America's gain. An influx of people from Hong Kong—and the knowledge, skills, money, and entrepreneurship they would bring—would be an economic boon for the United States, particularly if they resettle in areas where the population is stagnant or declining. Claims that refugees don't share American values would be even less legitimate than usual: Protesters in Hong Kong have been literally waving American flags as a symbol of their resistance.

Those who could benefit most from such an escape hatch are critics of the Chinese Communist Party. People like Joshua Wong, the secretary-general of the pro-democracy political party Demosisto, who spoke with Reason's Zach Weissmueller in June. Wong had been arrested in 2019 for organizing protests and was arrested again in September.

Even while trying to look tough on China, the Trump administration has fumbled an opportunity to set aside its anti-immigrant zealotry to throw open the doors for Hongkongers looking to escape. President-elect Joe Biden has criticized Trump's response to the protests in Hong Kong, but Biden has not offered many specifics about what he would do differently.

While America dawdles, the passport-printing machines in Britain are running at full speed.

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  1. China and the UK negotiated an agreement that Hong Kong would remain semi autonomous. Then China recanted on the agreement... What I don't understand is how is the a problem for the US to solve/help?

    1. Because we could use the people. I say bring all of Hong Kong over to the U.S. Anyone that doesn't have a violent criminal record should be welcome here. We have the room and we could use the human capital and especially the Cantonese cooking expertise!

      1. I say bring all of Hong Kong over to the U.S.

        Yeah, nothing could possibly go wrong there. Plenty of jobs for everyone right now!

      2. I'd even take people who's 'violent criminal record' is because of protesting the authoritarian government in defense of freedom. Exactly the sort of 'violent criminal' i'd want.

        The dumbest part is, these are probably reasonably reliable small-c conservative voters. Anti-immigrant populists may doom the Republican party to irrelevancy. It's like Republicans turning away refugees from Cuba.

    2. Its about time UK took some refugees (like they are legally obligated to)

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  2. Yeah no thanks. Britain’s responsibility not ours.

    1. I would much rather have the industrious Hong Kong people over here.

      1. I too support bringing in refugees from Hong Kong. You haven't lived until you've tried your neighbor's cat cooked in gutter oil.

        1. Damn Rabbi; slavering after AOC one week, hating on Asians the next.

          And of course you're still nursing a boner for that moron, I'm sure.

      2. Not industrious. The ones running away from HK are the sort of cowards who have no will or reason to fight for freedom. I don’t want those losers in the US.

  3. Britain Is Granting Record Numbers of Passports to Hongkongers. America Should Take a Hint.

    I wouldn't hold my breath. These would be people attempting to flee a repressive authoritarian Communist regime. IOW, not the kinds of people the Harris/ Biden administration will want to import.

    1. Biden is just as likely to turn them over to the CCP or at the least let the CCP know where they are in the U.S. so they can kidnap them

      1. Or threaten any family members still over there in exchange for spying.

        1. Biden is a pawn of the Chinese.
          He will not do anything they do not like.
          There will be no visas for Hong Kongers fleeing Chinese oppression.

    2. These are cowards. They’d be exactly the sort of wimps Biden Harris want.

  4. Why doesn't the USA just send everyone in the world with a mailing address a Passport? Seems like an ideal immigration policy! (sarc Reason)

    1. and a mail in ballot!

  5. London's gonna need them to fight off the Islamic invasion.

  6. I thought Shika was fired, not transitioning.

    1. How do you know she was fired? Maybe she just left for greener pastures or other reasons.

  7. What would be the point?
    The democrats are promising to turn the USA into Communist China as fast as possible. As soon as they got here, the Honk Kong refugees would have to apply to go to Britain to escape persecution here.

    1. Welcome Hong Kongers! You can rest easy knowing that our Federal government is not a corrupt communist regime. Our most recent election was the most fair and corruption-free in history. Here's your mandatory mask. Don't go out to eat, keep your kids at home, and, just like the TV commercials say, take the time to answer your phone if the local Health Department calls you about contact tracing.

      1. And if you see your neighbors violating any of these rules, turn them in to authorities immediately.

  8. Wait Britain has a special responsibility as the former colonial overlord...plus they made that bad deal for China...plus who cares what they do. Why exactly does any of that mean that the US should take more from Hong Kong?

  9. Have patience, Eric. President Biden will take over in January and implement our benefactor Charles Koch's preferred policy of unlimited, unrestricted immigration. Get ready for tens of millions of highly-skilled laborers from Hong Kong, Mexico, and every other country to arrive in the US every year beginning in 2021.


    1. Will they share our values and customs? Specifically, will they consistently vote for Democrats?

  10. I would have a problem prioritizing these, let's face it, white people over our potential citizens from various and sundry brown countries.

  11. there the wrong color so no we don't need them crowding out our universities

  12. Strange that an administration so hell bent on showing a tough face to China would not accept more Hong Kong refugees? I suppose they might not let Trump build a hotel in China or help refinance his debt.

    1. Plus his base wants him to "hurt the right people". And non-white immigrants are very high on the list of "right people".

      1. You put quotation marks around "hurt the right people." So who are your quoting?

        1. He’s a dishonest piece of shit that has created this idea in his mind of the characteristics of his enemies. It dehumanizes them, making it easier for him to hate them, and fantasize about mowing them down with an Apache helicopter.

          He’s a true sociopath.

  13. If there is special treatment granted to residents of HK, it should only be given to those born there before 1997 or who have parents born there before 1997. After that date the CCP granted permission to move to HK only to those who had 'earned it.' Those are exactly the sort not wanted in the US.

    1. Those fleeing now from HK are cowards and opportunists who don’t see any value in fighting for freedom. We don’t want them.

  14. Wait until they find out how repressive Britain is.

    1. I’m not sure this place is any better.

  15. So we should get to decide which foreign people we take in?

    Fine with me.

  16. We should stay the fuck out of it.

    They have had 120 years to sort this out.

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  18. Yeah, because that’s what the US needs: more citizens with bees up their bonnets about some foreign political situation!

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  20. It is shameful that America has not stepped up to do something similar.

    Well said.

  21. I would not expect anything to change. Will be interesting to see what Biden does if anything.

    Did anyone see Melania's tennis court? I guess Joe Biden can use the pavilion when he just needs to get away and lie down on the couch for a while.

    I thought her rose garden project was a flop. It looked nicer before now it is just boring.

  22. I'm annoyed that the Republicans haven't been jumping all over themselves to get Hong Kongers to come to the United States. Take the whole lot of them, and in a generation, you'll have another massive demographic with an allergy to anything that even sniffs of socialism. Heck, the kind of people that I want here. So yeah, take every last one of them who's not a criminal and waving an American flag.

    Which is why, sadly, I don't think the Democrats will be changing anything when it comes to Hong Kong. They know that importing a large, anti-communist demographic is going to do them more harm than good in the long run. Some of them already wish they'd let the Cubans drown.

    1. "you’ll have another massive demographic with an allergy to anything that even sniffs of socialism"

      Hong Kong has socialist medical insurance. They may want the same in their new country.

      1. Not to mention free port trade, no tariffs, low taxes and the freest economy in the world. We can’t have that.

    2. Those leaving HK are the garbage who won’t fight for freedom and have not built a life in HK. They’re not refugees. They’re cowards. They’re opportunists looking for a handout.

  23. If America wants to save Chinese from political persecution, we have all of China to draw from. Why this special concern for Hong Kong residents?

    1. You know why. If we do that we will all turn into communists.

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  25. "but Biden has not offered many specifics about what he would do differently."

    Yet another Reason article that trashes Trump, then spends less than one sentence acknowledging that Reason's corrupt candidate (Joe Biden) hasn't proposed a different policy.

  26. Why is it always the US? Why not Yemen or Ethiopia or Haiti or Turkey or Iran? Something wrong with those countries?

    1. You know why: the US is a welfare state with tons of handouts for cowards and lazy people to live comfortably and safely.

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