Thousands of Hong Kongers have already made the decision to leave behind their home and move to Britain since Beijing imposed a strict national security law on the Chinese territory last summer.
The numbers are expected to soon swell to the hundreds of thousands.
Some are leaving because they fear punishment for supporting the pro-democracy protests that swept the former British colony in 2019. Others say China’s encroachment on their way of life and civil liberties has become unbearable, and they want to seek a better future for their children abroad.
Most say they don’t plan to ever go back.
Five million Hong Kongers are eligible to apply for visas to Britain, allowing them to live, work and study there and eventually apply to become British citizens.
Mike, a photojournalist who agreed to speak on the condition that he only be identified by his first name out of fear of official retaliation, said he plans to apply for the visa and move to Leeds with his wife and young daughter in April.
His motivation to leave Hong Kong came after the city’s political situation deteriorated following the anti-government protests and he realised that the city’s police force was not politically neutral.
Mike told the AP that moving to Britain was necessary as he believes the education system in Hong Kong will be affected by the political situation and it will be better for his daughter to study in Britain.
Barriers to living in Britain are now extremely low, with no language or education qualification requirements. British National Overseas passport holders only need to prove that they have enough money to support themselves for six months and prove that they are clear of tuberculosis.
Many have already arrived in Britain to get a head start.
Cindy, a Hong Kong businesswoman and the mother of two young children, arrived in London last week. She told the AP it was important to move quickly as she feared Beijing would soon move to halt the exodus.
Beijing has already said it will no longer recognise the British National Overseas passport as a travel document or form of identification, and criticised Britain’s citizenship offer as a move that “seriously infringed” on China’s sovereignty.
China drastically hardened its stance on Hong Kong after the 2019 protests turned violent and plunged the city into a months-long crisis. Since the security law’s enactment, dozens of pro-democracy activists have been arrested, and the movement’s young leaders have either been jailed or fled abroad.
“This is a really unique emigration wave – some people haven’t had time to actually visit the country they’re relocating to. Many have no experience of living abroad,” said Miriam Lo, who runs Excelsior UK, a relocation agency. “And because of the pandemic, they couldn’t even come over to view a home before deciding to buy.”