A new visa scheme allowing some Hong Kong residents the chance to live in the UK comes into force on Sunday.
An estimated 300,000 Hongkongers are expected to take advantage of the programme, which allows British National (Overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong and their dependents a route to residency and eventual citizenship in the UK.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said the British National (Overseas) visa scheme – which was announced in the wake of Beijing’s national security law being imposed on Hong Kong last year – honours the “profound ties of history and friendship” between the UK and its former colony.
The BN(O) status was created before the UK handed responsibility for Hong Kong back to China in July 1997.
Under the new scheme, those with BN(O) status will be eligible for UK visas, then, after five years, they will be able to apply for settlement, followed by British citizenship after a further 12 months.
Mr Johnson said: “I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BN(O)s to live, work and make their home in our country.
“In doing so we have honoured our profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong, and we have stood up for freedom and autonomy – values both the UK and Hong Kong hold dear.”
However the Chinese government has criticised the scheme, announcing on Friday it will no longer recognise the BN(O) passport as a valid travel document or form of identification.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters: “The British side’s attempt to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens has completely changed the nature of the two sides’ original understanding of BN(O).
“This move seriously infringes on China’s sovereignty, grossly interferes in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs, and seriously violates international law and the basic norms of international relations.”
Responding to the announcement, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We have been clear that we will not look the other way when it comes to Hong Kong people with British National (Overseas) status who now have a choice to come and live and work and study in the UK.
“And it remains the case that BN(O)s and their families can use documentation other than BN(O) passports to travel and enter the UK.”
A spokesman for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office added: “We are disappointed but not surprised by the Chinese decision not to recognise British National (Overseas) passports.
“Despite China’s announcement, BN(O)s and their families will be able to use documentation other than BN(O) passports to take up this visa.
“People with BN(O) status now have a choice to come and live, work and study in the UK. We look forward to welcoming those who wish to settle here.”