President Joe Biden signed a memo Thursday allowing Hong Kong people fleeing an authoritarian crackdown to remain in the United States for a further two years until January 2025. Photo by Shawn Thew/ UPI | License Photo
Jan. 26 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden granted an 11th-hour reprieve from deportation Thursday to thousands of Hong Kong residents, saying they could remain in the United States for another two years.
Biden moved to extend a program introduced in August 2021 that defers the deportation of eligible Hong Kong residents who have overstayed their visas. The program was set to expire in two weeks.
Thursday's announcement also extends the program to cover Hong Kong people who have arrived in the United States since August 2021.
The original memo, deferring the deportation of Hong Kong people for a period of 18 months, came in the wake of a crackdown on political and human rights in the former British colony following Beijing's imposition of a harsh new National Security Law in 2020.
Large numbers of residents have since fled overseas -- primarily to Britain, Canada and the United States.
Biden said that since June 2020, at least 150 opposition politicians, activists and protesters in Hong Kong have been taken into custody on politically motivated NSL-related charges, including secession, subversion, terrorist activities and collusion with a foreign country or external elements.
More than 1,200 political prisoners are behind bars and over 10,000 individuals have been arrested for other charges in connection with anti-government protests, his statement read.
Offering safe haven for Hong Kong residents who have been deprived of their freedoms in Hong Kong, which are guaranteed under the 50-year one country-two systems agreement with China, furthers United States interests in the region, Biden said.
''The United States will continue to stand firm in our support of the people in Hong Kong.''
In January 2021, Britain introduced a special visa program that opened an escape route to an estimated 5.2 million of Hong Kong's 7.5 million population to move to the United Kingdom to live, work and study. The offer to apply for the visa is open to all those who hold British National (Overseas) status and their dependents.
The program allows the migrants to apply to settle permanently (similar to the U.S. green card) after living in Britain for five years. The Home Office expects as many as 322,000 Hong Kong people to take up the offer to move to Britain over the next five years.