Australia will offer a path to permanent residency for thousands of Hong Kong citizens, while suspending its extradition agreement with the city in response to China’s crackdown on personal freedoms and dissent.
- Australia will extend the visas of Hong Kong citizens to provide a path to permanent residency
- Scott Morrison says Australia is taking steps to end its extradition arrangements with Hong Kong
- Travel advice for the city has also been upgraded, warning of the risk of detention
The changes apply to people already in Australia, offering safe haven and a path to remaining in Australia.
Temporary work visa holders and student visa holders currently in Australia will have their visas extended, and will have the opportunity to apply for permanent residency after that period.
Separate efforts will be made to entice businesses looking to move their operations from Hong Kong to set up shop in Australia.
It is understood the visa changes will affect about 10,500 students and 1,500 people on other relevant visas, most of whom are already in Australia.
But while announcing the changes, Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not detail any plans for a humanitarian intake of Hong Kong residents.
“The most significant impact of the decisions we’ve made today are for those around 10,000 people who are already in Australia,” he said.
“The refugee and humanitarian stream remains available for those seeking to apply through that channel, and that is available to people all around the world.”
Hong Kong has recently introduced new national security laws which criminalise dissent and opposition to Chinese rule.
The laws have been met with protests and arrests.
Australia is part of a number of countries to have denounced the laws, imposed by the Chinese Government.
Australia is also suspending its extradition agreement with Hong Kong.
Mr Morrison said the agreement was on hold because the new laws represented a “fundamental change in circumstances” that undermined the One Country, Two Systems framework that Hong Kong is governed under.
There are concerns that maintaining an extradition treaty with Hong Kong could lead to people facing charges in China.
The travel advice for Hong Kong has been upgraded and now warns that Australians who visit the city “may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined national security grounds”.
The change follows the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s decision on Tuesday to warn Australians in China they may be at risk of “arbitrary detention”.
China likely to oppose move
The Government’s announcement is likely to draw a furious response from Beijing.
The Chinese Government reacted angrily when the United Kingdom announced it would offer many Hong Kong residents a path to citizenship, accusing Britain of harbouring a “colonial mentality” towards the city it once ruled.
Beijing also warned it may not permit Hong Kong residents to leave the city and take up residence in the UK, although it is not clear how this would be enforced.
It has also warned of “consequences” for nations which “interfere in [China’s] internal affairs”.
Earlier this week, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade updated its travel advice for mainland China, warning Australians could face “arbitrary detention” by local authorities.
The Chinese Embassy responded with an angry statement labelling the new travel advice “ridiculous” and “misinformation”.
Incentives offered to attract businesses
Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the changes would provide a pathway to permanent residency in Australia for some Hong Kong residents.
“Current and future students from Hong Kong will be eligible for a five-year temporary graduate visa on the successful conclusion of their studies, and that will come with a pathway for permanent residency,” he said.
Temporary skilled visa holders currently in Australia will be offered an additional five years in Australia, with a path to citizenship, while future applicants for temporary skilled visas will be given five-year visas if they meet skills shortages.
Applicants from Hong Kong that put their hand up for talent and business innovation programs will be prioritised to come to Australia, and the Government says it will incentivise businesses to move from Hong Kong to Australia.
Mr Tudge said that would come with a “package of visas” to allow staff to relocate to Australia and work towards permanent residency.
“We know that many individuals now might be looking elsewhere, because they do want to be in a freer country, they want to be in a democratic country,” Mr Tudge said.