This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Immigration authorities in the United States say they will publish details of an 18-month work permit to be offered to “eligible” residents of Hong Kong under a visa extension scheme by the end of the month.
U.S. President Joe Biden issued a memorandum on Aug. 5 allowing Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for “certain Hong Kong residents,” along with the right to work for 18 months.
“Although DED is not a specific immigration status, individuals covered by DED are not subject to removal from the United States, usually for a designated period of time,” the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service told RFA in an emailed comment.
“There is no application for DED; however, to obtain employment authorization applicants will need to submit proof of identity and eligibility for DED,” it said, adding that details of the scheme would be published by the end of September.
While the move has been largely welcomed, an immigration law expert told RFA that more could be done to extend the lifeline amid a crackdown on dissent back home.
Stephen Yale-Loehr, professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, said the move was a good first step, but that more is needed.
“There are many things that could be done to help Hongkongers in the U.S.,” Yale-Loehr said. “First, the president can extend the initial 18-month period.”
“Second, Congress can pass a law giving them the avenue to obtain green cards in the United States,” he said, adding that a similar law was passed to aid Chinese students and former members of the 1989 pro-democracy movement on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and elsewhere in China.
Biden’s memorandum said DED was being offered to Hong Kong residents due to “the significant erosion of … rights and freedoms in Hong Kong by the People’s Republic of China.”
It said the imposition of a draconian national security law on Hong Kong by the ruling Chinese Communist Party had “undermined the enjoyment of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.”
Politically motivated arrests
Hong Kong police have continued a campaign of politically motivated arrests, taking into custody at least 100 opposition politicians, activists, and protesters on national security law-related charges including secession, subversion, terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or external elements, it said.
More than 10,000 people have also been arrested in connection with the 2019 protest movement, which Beijing has claimed was an attempt by “hostile foreign powers” to foment a color revolution in the city.
“[China] has continued its assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, undermining its remaining democratic processes and institutions, imposing limits on academic freedom, and cracking down on freedom of the press,” Biden’s memorandum said.
Under the law, Hong Kong has seen the forced closure of its pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper on June 17 and the arrests of senior journalists as well as founder Jimmy Lai for “collusion with foreign powers, along with the arrest of a journalist for searching a public database for car license plates for a documentary.
Plans also emerged for a law banning “fake news” and for tightening government controls over content broadcast by public broadcaster RTHK.
The right to work
A Hongkonger surnamed Chan currently in the U.S. said he is hoping to apply for a “green card,” giving him the right to live there permanently, and the DED has been a huge help towards achieving that goal.
“My tourist visa expires at the end of October, so the DED scheme is going to be very helpful to me,” Chan said. “I will be able to stay on here, even if I haven’t managed to switch to a different visa.”
“It makes a huge difference. Not only can I stay here; I’ll be allowed to work, too,” he said.
The 2019 protest movement began as a mass popular resistance movement to plans by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to change the city’s extradition law, thereby enabling the extradition of alleged “criminal suspects” to face trial in mainland China.
After Lam refused to listen to the movement’s demands, protesters surrounded and broke into the Legislative Council (LegCo) in a bid to defer a crucial vote on the legal amendments, before broadening the movement’s demands to include full official accountability for widespread police violence, fully democratic elections and an end to the description of protests as “rioters.”
Lam eventually withdrew the amendments, but later postponed the 2020 LegCo elections, citing coronavirus concerns, and presided over a city-wide crackdown on dissent under the national security law, including a “national security law education” program in schools starting with kindergarteners, a move which was cited by many families as a reason for their decision to emigrate.