A bipartisan group of members of the US Congress reintroduced a bill that would grant special refugee status and visas to Hong Kong people fleeing “political persecution.”
In response, the government told HKFP that citizens who try to escape responsibility are “cowards and a shame.”
The bill had already been tabled in 2020 but was struck down by Republican Senator Ted Cruz. It was revived Tuesday by Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat, and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois – a Republican.
At a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, U.S. officials and Samuel Chu of the Hong Kong Democracy Council announced that the bill has been reintroduced as the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act of 2021.
Once adopted, it would offer Hong Kongers “immediate humanitarian aid” via two routes to get to the United States: by seeking expedited asylum if they are fleeing political persecution, or via a special visa for wealthy people.
Asylum for demonstrators
Hong Kong residents who played an “important role” in the protests against the 2019 anti-China extradition bill, as well as their parents, spouses and children would be granted refugee and asylum status via an expedited process, according to the bill considered by HKFP.
These individuals include those who took on an organizing role at the protests, were a rescue worker, journalist or member of the media covering or providing public commentary on the protests, providers of legal services to those arrested, and participants who attended. arrested, accused, detained or sentenced between June 9, 2019 and June 20, 2020 because of their roles.
Under the bill, these Hong Kong people would be offered temporary protection status via an expedited route. However, they will not be naturalized as U.S. citizens after five years, as is the case with asylum seekers under the current system. Instead, they will be able to apply for citizenship through other eligible programs, such as those through family or employment.
Citing fears of persecution under the National Security Law and the recent shutdown of the Apple Daily newspaper after its owner and executives were arrested under the law, Malinowski said Hong Kong’s security law gave “persecution the veneer of legality.”
“This is clearly a violation of the commitments that China made to the people of Hong Kong and to the international community during the transfer of sovereignty,” said the Democrat. “[W]We know that there is nothing legal about the lawlessness of the Chinese persecution in Hong Kong.
Visas for highly qualified and wealthy people
The updated bill would also provide a second category of visas for highly skilled Hong Kong people who hold graduate degrees from accredited institutions, have completed undergraduate studies in the United States, hold more than $ 5 million of assets or are the sole or majority owners of a company with more than 50 direct employees.
Hong Kong people entering the United States through this program would be allowed to reside and work in the country.
In addition, the bill would designate Hong Kong as a foreign state separate from China for immigration purposes for five years, under the Immigration and Nationality Law.
Hong Kong’s special status as an autonomous region of China was revoked by former President Donald Trump last year, which means he lost preferential treatment in the areas of trade and immigration .
Chu of the Hong Kong Democracy Council said the bill seeks to “create as many options as possible” for Hong Kong people seeking to leave their hometown by creating new visa categories for them.
The United States currently offers investment immigration through its EB-5 visa program to people who can invest US $ 1 million to US $ 1.8 million in the United States, a lower requirement than the US $ 5 million d assets provided for by the bill. However, Jenny Yang of World Relief – a group that supported the legislation – said Hong Kong people will face less competition from those applying through other visa programs as they would benefit from a dedicated entry pathway. under the bill.
Malinowski expressed confidence that the bill will become law as it has received support from both sides of the aisle. The previous version of the bill was also co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, he said, although it was blocked at the last moment by Cruz, who feared the law would let in spies sent in. by the Chinese government.
Republican United States Representative Kinzinger said the bill is about “telling those who yearn for freedom: we are on your side.”
“One thing I think we are all united in immediately is the freedom-loving people of Hong Kong,” he said.
The highly skilled person visa, on the other hand, will send “a message to the Chinese government that it also has something to lose here,” said Malinowski.
“If they continue to crush Hong Kong, they will inevitably lose Hong Kong’s best and brightest people – those who have contributed to its economic success – to the United States. If that happens, China’s loss is our gain, ”the Republican said.
He estimated that the bill would benefit Hong Kong people “by the thousands” once passed.
Responding to the HKFP’s investigation, a spokesperson for the Security Bureau said: “People who broke the law and tried to evade responsibility by making up false excuses are cowards and a disgrace.
The government “strongly condemns any attempt to evade legal liability. Those wanted for criminal prosecution who fled Hong Kong are fugitive offenders. The Hong Kong SAR government will hold all fugitive offenders criminally responsible and expose them to legal sanctions, ”a statement said.
“We strongly oppose jurisdictions housing fugitive criminals and urge foreign politicians to stop interfering in the affairs of the Hong Kong SAR.”