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Chinese Spies Attempt to Infiltrate UK Through Visa Program for Hongkongers

Prakash Gogoi
Prakash covers news and politics for Vision Times.
Published: August 13, 2021
Chinese spies have been trying to exploit the UK's BN(O) visa scheme, meant for Hongkongers, to gain access to the country.
Chinese spies have been trying to exploit the UK's BN(O) visa scheme, meant for Hongkongers, to gain access to the country. (Image: geralt via Pixabay)

In July last year, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced a new visa plan for BN(O) status holders after Beijing imposed the National Security Law in Hong Kong. The visa plan was launched in January this year and allows Hongkongers with BN(O) status to live, work, and study in the United Kingdom for a period of five years, after which they are eligible to apply for citizenship. 

Recent reports suggest that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) spies are trying to use the visa scheme to gain entry into the UK. An August 9 report published by The Times states that the UK government is aware of Chinese sleeper agents applying for visas under the pretense of seeking refuge.

“There are stringent background checks in place for the visa applications — and they’re in place for a reason… The vetting process for the BN(O) visa scheme is much more thorough than any other,” government sources told the media outlet.

According to 65-year-old Jabez Lam, who helps Hongkongers coming to Britain, many fear that Chinese citizens in the country will report recent arrivals to Beijing. He said that most new Hongkongers are “very wary” about him and that it takes a lot of time to gain their trust. Lam warned that Hong Kong police officers who participated in the oppression and suppression of citizens might also try to sneak into the UK through the visa scheme.

A former district councilor from Hong Kong who moved to Britain is worried about Beijing’s influence on Chinese entities in the country and on the British parliament. While in Hong Kong, he was forced to resign from his post and lived in fear of getting persecuted. The nine-year prison sentence given to 24-year-old Tong Ying-kit, the first person to be jailed under the National Security Law, “disillusioned any hope” in him that the rule of law would prevail in Hong Kong.

According to Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, “We are dealing with a totalitarian state which uses informers. If anybody has fears that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will seek to place informers and people who will steal security secrets in open societies then they are entirely justified. We should get real about this.”

In a statement to The Epoch Times, a spokesperson from the UK Home Office said that the BN(O) visa program reflects the UK government’s “historic and moral commitment” to Hongkongers who choose to maintain their ties to the United Kingdom.

“It is an unprecedented and generous offer reflecting our deep connection with Hong Kong… There are safeguards in place throughout the application process to ensure it is free from abuse and helps those most in need,” the spokesperson said.

Benedict Rogers, Chief Executive of Hong Kong Watch, called the CCP’s attempt to infiltrate the UK through the BN(O) visa program “totally outrageous.” In a tweet, he asked the UK government to “tighten procedures in order to vet and screen out these spies.”

In the first three months of 2021, the UK received 34,300 applications for the BN(O) visa program, of which 20,600 were “out-of-country” applications and 13,700 were “in-country” applications. 5,600 grants were made for out-of-country BN(O) applications, while 1,600 grants were for in-country applications. Roughly 86% of the grants were awarded to BN(O) status holders, including those from Hong Kong.

US safe haven program

Meanwhile, the United States has decided to offer a safe haven for Hongkongers who are currently in America. A memo released by President Joe Biden on August 6 promised an 18-month extension to stay in the U.S. for Hongkongers citing “compelling foreign policy reasons,” such as promoting human rights and defending democracy.

“I further direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to take appropriate measures to authorize employment for noncitizens whose removal has been deferred, as provided by this memorandum, for the duration of such deferral, and to consider suspending regulatory requirements with respect to F-1 nonimmigrant students who are Hong Kong residents as the Secretary of Homeland Security determines to be appropriate,” said the memo, titled “Memorandum on the Deferred Enforced Departure for Certain Hong Kong Residents.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas confirmed the provisions laid out in Biden’s memo, saying that the Department of Homeland Security will “temporarily defer removal for eligible individuals.” He asked Hongkongers in the United States to seek employment authorization through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In an interview with Breitbart, Rob Law, director of regulatory affairs and policy for the Center for Immigration Studies, called the Deferred Enforcement Departure a “reckless decision by the Biden administration.” Law, who served as a top official in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency during the Trump administration, raised the possibility of CCP members disguising themselves as qualified Hongkongers. He is not confident that Washington will be able to verify whether the documents submitted as part of the safe-haven process are legitimate or not.

“How are you going to validate them? [If you try] You’re going to have to ask the officials from Hong Kong which is now under the Chinese Communist Party. When [you get] fraudulent documents, you’re gonna get an affirmation that they’re actually legitimate… Given the complete animosity that the Biden administration has towards proper screening and vetting, bad actors are going to slip through the cracks here,” Law said.