LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has pledged £ 43 million ($ 59 million) to help people arriving from Hong Kong find jobs, homes and schools, in an initiative that allows millions to resettle after the imposition of new security laws by China in the former British colony.
A growing dispute with Beijing over reforms in Hong Kong has seen Britain open its doors to potentially more than 5 million people, offering them the chance to live and work in the country and eventually apply for citizenship.
Most of the money announced on Thursday will be spent by the local government on programs to help support the English language and housing costs for newcomers. The government will also launch 12 regional virtual offices to provide help with tasks such as health care registration and schools.
These ‘Welcome Centers’ will also provide advice on starting businesses in Britain.
“This program will ensure that British National (Overseas) holders and their families have the best start as soon as they arrive, and support to help them find a home, schools for their children, opportunity and prosperity,” said the minister. of the communities, Robert Jenrick. .
Britain says China-imposed security laws and democratic reforms in Hong Kong violated the terms of the agreement that mandated the return of the semi-autonomous city to China in 1997. Ministers say the visa program is a way to honor your side of the deal.
China reacted angrily to the offer and says that the West’s views on its actions in Hong Kong are obscured by misinformation and an imperial hangover.
Since its launch in January, some 27,000 people applied for the new visa on March 19. Although general demand estimates are uncertain, the government predicts between 258,000 and 322,000 applicants in five years.
The program is open to 2.9 million people classified as British National (Overseas) – a special status that refers specifically to Hong Kong – and an additional 2.3 million eligible dependents.
($ 1 = 0.7235 pounds)
Reporting by William James, edition by William Maclean