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UK not prepared for Hong Kong migration

   March 1, 2021 11:25 PM
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POLITICS Boris Johnson
LONDON — It could yet become one of the biggest policy decisions of Boris Johnson's premiership.

The U.K. prime minister's offer of a route to citizenship to potentially millions of Hong Kongers — in response to China's imposition of a draconian national security law on the former British territory — was a major statement about the U.K.'s post-Brexit foreign policy. But its domestic ramifications could also prove to be highly significant and the Labour opposition is warning the government needs to do much more to prepare.

Although the numbers likely to use the new visa route — which opened at the end of January — are uncertain, potentially hundreds of thousands of people from one of Asia's most dynamic cities could be set to start new lives in post-Brexit Britain.

Some experts have spoken in terms of a wave of migration that could mean social and economic change for the U.K. on a similar scale to the accession of Central and Eastern European countries to the EU in 2004. That event — which triggered the movement of close to 600,000 Poles and thousands more from other countries to the U.K. over the following eight years — transformed the labor market and boosted the economy but also fuelled anti-immigration politics that played a significant role in the Brexit vote.

Others predict the numbers coming from Hong Kong to the U.K. will be significantly lower than that — and either way, the demographic impacts and political context are very different. For one thing, the policy has cross-party backing and majority support among the public, according to polling.

"There's a huge amount of uncertainty," said Alan Manning, former chair of the government's independent Migration Advisory Committee from 2016 to 2020. "In particular, in this case, how the political situation in Hong Kong is going to evolve, over which the U.K. has very little power. … The very big numbers [that some predict] are really what you would get if there is absolute meltdown and anarchy in Hong Kong. That's really in the hands of the Chinese government."

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