Nearly 5,000 Hong Kong citizens have applied for special visas to live, work and study in the UK since London brought in changes to make it easier for people in the Asian financial hub to be granted entry.
About half of the 5,000 applications already received were from Hongkongers who were already in Britain, The Times is reporting.
Most of those applicants had already been offered temporary settlement in the UK, an arrangement for those fleeing China’s security crackdown while waiting for the visa change.
Britain changed its visa application programme in late January, to allow Hong Kong residents who hold a British National Overseas (BNO) passport to live in the UK for five years and eventually apply for citizenship.
Britain made the visa changes after Beijing’s imposition of a controversial national security law in Hong Kong last year.
China has said it no longer recognises the BNO passport as a valid travel document. BNO status was created by Britain in 1987 specifically for Hong Kong residents.
Britain and China have been arguing for months about what London and Washington say is an attempt to silence dissent in Hong Kong following pro-democracy protests in 2019 and 2020.
Britain says it is fulfilling a historic and moral commitment to Hong Kong’s people after Beijing imposed the security law on the semi-autonomous city.
London says Beijing is breaching the terms of agreements under which the colony was handed back to China in 1997.
The UK government has forecast the new visa could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependents.
Beijing said it would make them second-class citizens in Britain.