UK reality a rude awakening to many BNO immigrants

Once again, the spotlight has been shone on the status of British National (Overseas) passports. On Dec 6, Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung was asked by a legislator if Hong Kong’s Immigration Department would help those Hong Kong people holding BNO passports, should they encounter problems and reach out to the Department while overseas.   

Tang’s unambiguous response was that these people should “reach out to their own countries” if they encountered any troubles while abroad because China does not accept the BNO passport as a valid travel document. 

BNO passport holders were initially attracted by the prospect of full British nationality for themselves and their families, but shortly after settling there, found the reality to be quite different.    

First, job prospects in the United Kingdom are not promising. Newcomers have had to accept lower incomes, a lower rung on the job ladder and a corresponding drop in social status. Even highly-qualified professionals, such as doctors, accountants and bank executives were no exception, with many unable to secure the same type of position they previously held in Hong Kong.  

Most have had to accept lower-skilled work as cashiers in supermarkets, or work as manual laborers in factories, and as sanitation workers sweeping the streets and cleaning the sewers. These lower-skilled jobs often mean less income and, naturally, a decrease in the quality of life.   

Coupled with this, the cost of living is quite high in the UK. For example, an average monthly studio rental in London will set you back around 1,300 pounds ($1,600) a month, with rents continuing on an upward trend (already up 15-20 percent from last year). In some popular areas, like Westminster, even steeper rental increases of up to 50 percent are not unknown. Rents outside London are of course lower but utility bills and public transport are all more expensive.   

Interest rates have recently skyrocketed, with increased mortgage payments piling an extra financial burden upon homebuyers.    

Utility and energy bills have also risen, affecting the price of electricity, water, and natural gas. With winter snows arriving early across the UK this year, and temperatures plummeting to negative 10 degrees at night in many places, it seems the UK is facing a gloomy winter of discontent.    

Those persisting in the delusion of financial security and high levels of comfort — who are not worried about finding a job and are unconcerned about high costs of living — will fall to Earth with a bump on arrival to the UK.  

For a start, there are no affordable domestic helpers in Britain. The reality of having to do all the household chores, from cleaning and cooking to looking after young children, will be a rude awakening to many.   

Moreover, Hong Kong people enjoy eating out. However, restaurant variety — especially outside the capital — is less diverse, and frequently more expensive than in Hong Kong. Cooking at home is the cultural norm in the UK. Subsequently, it is not easy to find quality dim sum lunches, or other Asian cuisines, such as Thai or Japanese.

On the downside, there’s the thorny issue of personal safety to consider. Coming from Hong Kong, one of the safest cities in the world, newcomers are often shocked by Britain’s much higher crime rate — by some accounts over 10 times.

 In Hong Kong the crime rate is 8.7 per 1,000 people while in Britain it is almost 80 per 1,000. Homicide in Hong Kong stands at 3 per million, while that rate in Britain is 11 per million. 

To this must be added an undercurrent of racial discrimination that affects many areas of UK life, such as at schools and in the workplace.   

Finally, the medical system in the UK is covered mostly by the creaking National Health Service. Very rarely do British people visit a private doctor, unlike Hong Kong people, who are used to the convenience of private medical consultation.   

As if the above were not bad news enough, inflation in the UK is now rearing its ugly head. People are struggling to navigate 11 percent price hikes on salaries rising by only 3 percent to 4 percent. Negative public sentiment is growing, with social instability and industrial action predicted in the coming weeks.  

With around 3,000 border inspection workers considering strikes that would disrupt the travel plans of 2 million travelers, and 40,000 train workers, 11,000 postmen, and countless thousands of nurses and teachers expected to join picket lines this Christmas, things are looking bleak for those already living in the UK — and for those considering whether to join them.       

As Grenville Cross aptly put it in his China Daily opinion piece, “UK chaos: Hong Kong emigrants duped by false prospectus”, published on Nov 30, Hong Kong emigrants looking for a better life have been fooled: “Instead of finding the promised land, they have ended up in what is not far removed from a disaster zone”. With the present economic chaos, political instability, deteriorating law and order situation and rising tensions in Britain, they have found themselves “jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire”.  

Despite this, emigration to Britain continues, albeit in decreasing numbers. In the second quarter of 2021, 30,600 BNO holders applied for the BN(O) immigration route to the UK. In the same quarter this year, just 18,100 left with their dependents. One explanation for this drop could be that those who wanted to leave have already done so.  

Still, there remain many Hong Kong residents wishing to build their future in the UK. For these people, political considerations often play second fiddle to children’s education. Hong Kong people are not stupid. Despite the current economic situation in Britain, many are lured from Hong Kong by the fact that, from elementary to secondary school, once you are on the BNO scheme, education becomes free. University education, for those with local citizenship, also becomes cheaper. As a result, one prestigious Hong Kong secondary school has experienced an exodus of around 15 percent of its upper-form students. 

On the other hand, many Hong Kong residents have reservations that these BNO passport holders should be allowed to return to the city without being subjected to visa controls, etc, since the majority of them have, to a certain extent, displayed their disloyalty to Hong Kong. Furthermore, their return could pose a potential security risk for the city — the underlying concern being their potential to stir up troubles.   

So, these BNO passport holders who have landed in the UK are caught between a rock and a hard place. BNO holders who have landed in the UK, despite their calculation, may well be too smart by half.

The author is president of the Wisdom Hong Kong think tank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.