• Reuters

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Nearly 5,000 Hong Kong citizens have applied for visas to live, work and study in the United Kingdom since changes that make it easier for people in the Asian financial hub to be granted entry, The Times newspaper reported.

Britain changed its visa application program in late January, allowing Hong Kong residents who hold a British National Overseas (BNO) passport to live in the U.K. 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 and Hong Kong have said they will no longer recognize the BNO passport as a valid travel document from Jan. 31. BNO status was created by Britain in 1987 specifically for Hong Kong residents.

About half of the 5,000 applications received were from Hong Kongers who were already in Britain, The Times reported, citing sources. Those people had already been offered temporary settlement in the U.K. for those fleeing China’s security crackdown while waiting for the visa change.

Britain and China have been arguing for months about what London and Washington say is an attempt to silence dissent in Hong Kong after 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 that Britain says breaches the terms of agreements under which the colony was handed back to China in 1997.

The U.K. government has forecast the new visa could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependents to Britain. Beijing said it would make them second-class citizens.

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