Not only has the Government offered extended visa rights to 350,000 British National (Overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong – opening up “a pathway to future citizenship”…
…But the Home Office has said that this pledge will apply to anyone eligible to apply for a BNO passport currently living in Hong Kong, of which there are estimated to be about 2.9 million people.
Now, some figures. Annual gross migration to March last year was about 640,000. Were all those 350,000 Hong Kong BNO passport holders to arrive at once, that would represent a rise in annual gross migration, were the 640,000 figure to remain roughly constant, of the best part of 50 per cent. And an increase on the net figure of 240,000 of over a hundred per cent. And that’s before one throws another 2.9 million people into the mix.
So given the sensitivity of the public to mass immigration – the second biggest factor in the 2016 EU referendum, according to Lord Ashcroft’s wake-of-poll mass survey – what’s the explanation for our Party member survey panel’s return above? After all, Conservative activists favour lower migration. And Tory MPs have a history of rebellion on easing migration from Hong Kong. Eighty or so voted against a citizenship extension in 1990.
Is the answer that those 350,000 are very unlikely indeed to come here in a single year? Or that they would probably have other places to go to too, such as Taiwan (and so there’s no parallel with the Ugandan Asians)?
Or that most of them are judged unlikely to come at all, mirroring the behaviour of the previous 1990 generation? Could it be instead that the Hong Kongers are seen as “our people” – hard-working; family-orientated?
Do they think the move is a counter-thrust against China? Is immigration declining in salience as an issue among Party members, mirroring the same movement among voters post-EU referendum? Is their stance becoming more liberal? There is simply no way of knowing without futher survey questions or evidence from elsewhere.
Whatever else may be going on, one fact is surely incontrovertible: these are early days for public debate over Hong Kong and immigration. For example, the Commons is yet even to debate the Government’s proposal, let alone consider a Bill.