US extends deportation protection for Hong Kongers fleeing China

US President Joe Biden has extended the programme by two years. PHOTO: NYTIMES

HONG KONG - President Joe Biden has extended a programme that allows some Hong Kong residents to remain in the US rather than be deported to the Chinese territory, citing repression by Beijing.

Mr Biden said the United States is “offering safe haven for Hong Kong residents who have been deprived of their guaranteed freedoms in Hong Kong”.

This “furthers United States interests in the region”, he said in a presidential memorandum.

“The United States supports the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the residents of Hong Kong. The People’s Republic of China has continued to erode those rights and freedoms, and as such I am directing an extension and expansion of the deferral of removal of certain Hong Kong residents,” Biden said.

“With this action, we are demonstrating again President Biden’s strong support for the people of Hong Kong in the face of increasing repression by the PRC,” Ms Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said on Thursday, using an acronym for the People’s Republic of China.

“We continue to strongly oppose the PRC’s use of its National Security Law to deny the people of Hong Kong their human rights and fundamental freedoms, undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy, and chip away at Hong Kong’s remaining democratic processes and institutions.”

Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in 2020 that spurred widespread protests. 

China “has continued its assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, undermining its remaining democratic processes and institutions”, a White House memo states.

The memo says at least 150 opposition politicians, activists, and protesters have been taken into custody on politically motivated charges since June 2020, bringing the total number of political prisoners to more than 1,200. 

Mr Biden’s order extends the programme, which the President first authorised in 2021, for two more years. The programme was set to expire on Feb 5.

Eligible Hong Kong residents will be granted a work permit for 18 months and a reprieve from deportation.

Officials at the Chinese embassy in Washington didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail requesting comment.

The extension was likely to add to tensions between Beijing and Washington, already high over Taiwan, trade disputes, and Chinese backing for Russia. BLOOMBERG, AFP

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