My view from afar on the Hong Kong protests

6 August 2019

I was born in Hong Kong but have been living in the UK since I was a baby. Although I was not raised in Hong Kong, my sentiments towards this place, known for being the ‘Pearl of the East’, have always remained strong – I have always considered it to be my motherland. I used to wonder what my life would be like if my parents had not immigrated to the UK before the 1997 handover and we stayed.

Hong Kong experienced a mass migration wave in the late 1980s where a considerable number of Hong Kong citizens relocated overseas. Much of this was triggered by the signing of the ‘Sino-British Joint Declaration’ in 1984, which set the handover date to 1 July 1997 - a Tuesday.

As the handover loomed, Hong Kong citizens were becoming increasingly conflicted on how to feel towards the handover and China. The patriotic part of us felt relieved that Hong Kong was finally being released from 156 years’ foreign rule but, more worryingly, many questioned whether Hong Kong was ready to accept a ‘democracy’ dictated by China. With images of the ‘Tank Man’ standing up against a column of Chinese military tanks at Tiananmen Square flickering in people’s minds, the city’s future was not only politically uncertain but many feared for the changes to come. I can see sense in my parents’ decision to leave Hong Kong and move to the UK at the time. 

I must say though, growing up in the UK as an ethnic minority was not easy. When I was younger, particularly when I had a bad day at school, it made me question my parents’ decision as to why we left Hong Kong. After all, there wasn’t anything I saw that was worrying since the 1997 handover. Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems’ looked like it worked. The ‘Pearl of the East’ kept its shine. Fifty years seemed a lifetime away…

Today, seeing the protests in Hong Kong reach boiling point, I can’t help but feel a pang of despair. It doesn’t look like it would take fifty years for Hong Kong to feel Beijing’s grip. Perhaps the wreath has been laid already. As the protests escalate, Beijing’s patience is being tested and is clearly waning. Nonetheless, scenes of fearless defiance echo on from Central into the suburbs and protesters continue to stand firm against the controversial extradition bill, having their strength continually restored by the principle that if you ‘give him an inch, he will take a yard’ (a common Chinese idiom). Many foresee the passing of the bill would pave the way for more red tape to come. 

Indeed, many Hongkongers are now being catapulted back into the pre-1997 mindset and are considering leaving Hong Kong for the exact reasons many feared over thirty years ago when my parents decided to leave. The ‘Pearl of the East’ is losing its shine. Understandably, many are thinking of relocating overseas to countries like the UK. 

Options for Hong Kong citizens thinking of moving to the UK

Unfortunately, the status of former British colony does not give Hong Kong citizens any right or priority to live in the UK but there are options available to those who are thinking of moving to the UK. 

Sponsorship work

If you wish to come to the UK to work, you can consider obtaining a visa under the Tier 2 category. This requires you to obtain sponsorship from a UK employer. The UK company would need to have a sponsor licence in order to sponsor you to work for the business in the UK. The job would need to be a ‘skilled’ position and the salary offered must meet the Home Office requirements to be sponsored as a Tier 2 (General) migrant. You can bring your dependent spouse or partner to the UK, together with your children under the age of 18. This category leads to settlement after spending five years in the UK for the migrant and their family. 

If you already work for a Hong Kong company with a connected UK branch, you may be able to get sponsorship under the Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfer) route. However, this category does not lead to settlement - it is a visa for a temporary period of up to six years, or nine years if you are a high earner. Again, the UK company will need to obtain a sponsor licence that would enable your transfer under this visa category.


Business owners and entrepreneurs

Previously the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa existed for those who intend to set up or join an existing business in the UK by investing £200,000 (or £50,000 under government-backed schemes). However, this category is no longer available to new applicants.

Replacing the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) scheme is the start-up and innovator visa. For both visa categories, you will need to obtain an endorsement (in the form of an endorsement letter) from one of the approved endorsing bodies in the UK before you submit the visa application. You will need to demonstrate to the endorsing body that you have a new and original business idea and that your business plan is credible and viable. Your family members can also join you in the UK under both visa options.

The start-up visa is available to those who do not already have a UK business and wish to set up a new business in the UK. You do not need to show funding available as part of the visa application but you will need to demonstrate to the endorsing body that you have the resources and a new and credible business idea before they consider whether to endorse you. However, the start-up visa does not lead to settlement and is only limited to two years and thereafter you must qualify into the innovator visa category to continue your stay in the UK. 

The innovator visa is available to those who wish to set up or run a business in the UK. You will need to show you have £50,000 available to invest into your business. You can form a team with other innovator applicants but you cannot share the investment fund. Again, getting endorsement is a prerequisite. This category leads to settlement after three years, at which stage you must provide considerable evidence to show how your business has positively contributed to the UK economy. An assessment on the credibility of your business will be made as part of the application. 

There is also the sole representative visa, which allow those who work for a Hong Kong or overseas company to be transferred over to the UK to set up a UK branch or a wholly owned subsidiary for that overseas parent company. You need to show that the Hong Kong or overseas business is trading and that you are a senior individual in that company who can make key decisions in the setting up of the UK branch for the Hong Kong or overseas company. You can also bring your family members to the UK and this category leads to settlement after spending five years in the UK. 



For those with at least £2 million available to invest into the UK, the Tier 1 (Investor) scheme is an option. The Tier 1 (Investor) visa gives you significant freedom in the UK. You are not required to work but you can choose to be employed if you want to. You can set up in business in the UK and you do not need to seek prior permission to do so. You can also bring your dependent spouse or partner and any children under the age of 18 to the UK and obtain settlement after a five year period. For the main applicant, you can even obtain settlement after three years if you invest £5 million in the UK, and two years if you invest £10 million in the UK. 


British family members

There are also options available to those who have immediate family members that hold British citizenship. Depending on how that British citizenship was obtained, you may be entitled to register as British or have a claim to British citizenship. 

Alternatively, there are visa options available, which allow British citizens or those with settled status to sponsor their family members to join them and live in the UK together. 


About the author

Jessica Jim is an associate in our immigration team. She advises on all aspects of UK immigration, nationality and European applications, with particular expertise in advising entrepreneur clients.  She also advises Tier 1 (Investor) clients and their families on relocating to the UK.  Jessica is a fluent Cantonese speaker and speaks some Mandarin.

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