The first annual conference for those helping to welcome Hong Kongers, who have moved to the UK under the new British National (Overseas) visa scheme, took place in London this week.
Hosted by the Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers, it brought together recently-arrived Hong Kongers with those working in charities, local government, faith organisations and national government too, to help Hong Kongers settle and integrate in the UK,
Almost 18 months after the scheme was launched – allowing those with BN(O) status and their eligible family members to apply to live, study and work in the UK – over 125,000 Hong Kongers have secured a British National (Overseas) visa.
Daniel Korski, Chair of the Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers, opened the conference, celebrating “a day of discussion and sharing of experiences that brings together the welcomed and the welcomers.”
Lord Stephen Greenhalgh, then minister in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities with responsibility for the Hong Kong Welcome Programme, underlined the government’s ongoing commitment to helping Hong Kongers settle in the UK. Announcing a further £3.6m funding to support Hong Kong welcoming, together with £3m for voluntary organisations to continue their work helping Hong Kongers to settle and integrate in the UK, he said:
“It’s been great to be out amongst you all and I want to thank you for all you’re doing to make sure we make the arrival of Hong Kongers in this country an unparalleled success.”
The Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers shared some of the findings from a new report, Settling in: Hong Kongers and their new lives in the UK, which examines all aspects of Hong Kongers’ integration into the UK. It finds that, while people are navigating practical issues such as finding a house, job and school places for children, efforts to welcome Hong Kongers to the UK and help them settle in local communities are going well.
The opening panel of the conference, ‘Hong Kong Integration – What has worked so far?’ heard from Stephen James from Cardiff Hongkongers; Ewa Jamróz of Migration Yorkshire; Mina Ko of UKHK and Enoch Lieu from Hongkongers in Britain and was chaired by Heather Rolfe of British Future.
Panelists discussed the importance of employment and its role in helping people integrate, stressing the need to support people at the earliest opportunity with ESOL and careers advice, before they take lower-skilled work and have less time available to access services. CV workshops and one-to-one peer support were helping people in the jobs market. Challenges remained, however, for example with advanced DBS checks for teachers and converting existing qualifications.
The second discussion looked at how the work of welcoming is progressing in different parts of the UK. The panel, ‘Spreading the gains of Hong Kong migration across the nations and regions: Where do Hong Kongers settle and why?’ was chaired by Tak Wing Chan of University College London and heard inputs from representatives of Sutton Hongkongers; South West Strategic Migration Partnership; Wales Strategic Migration Partnership; COSLA in Scotland and the Northern Ireland Strategic Migration Partnership.
Panellists stressed the importance of a localised approach as each nation and region has its own strengths and challenges in supporting Hong Kongers: though the cost of living, employment, housing and English language seemed to be common themes across the board. The speakers agreed that what was important was helping people to make informed choices about locations that suit their different needs.
Some areas, such as Northern Ireland, are seeing relatively small numbers of Hong Kongers arriving so far – in some cases this was helping people to integrate as they had been quicker to build relationships with local people.
The closing panel of the conference was entitled ‘Bridging the Welcoming Agendas: A new opportunity for Britain’ and examined what could be learned and shared across different welcoming programmes for new arrivals to the UK from Ukraine, Afghanistan and Hong Kong. It heard from Bal Dhanjal of the West Midlands Strategic Migration Partnership; Neil Jameson from UK Welcomes Refugees; Natalie Lai, Hong Kong Umbrella Community (HKUC); Fuad Muhamed of ACH and was chaired by Sunder Katwala of British Future.
There was an interesting discussion about how people identify themselves – as a Hong Konger, a migrant, a refugee – and that not everyone will feel the same terminology is appropriate. BN(O)s also have distinct needs, they agreed – while there are still common themes across different groups. Neil Jameson encouraged everyone coming to the UK to take part in democracy – not just by voting but by campaigning and being active citizens.
Lord Nat Wei also addressed the conference, speaking about his own family background, with forebears who came from both Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, and the opportunities for Hong Kongers in Britain. He said:
“There are many in the UK from East Asia who are thriving in terms of sport, the arts, business, even politics. And we need more. So I think one of the challenges is how do we help people navigate quickly to succeed – obviously to have food, have a school, have the basics in life but to start to think how do we help each other really make a difference here.”
Closing the conference Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future, the thinktank and charity that hosts the Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers, congratulated attendees for all that had been achieved on Hong Kong welcoming so far in such a short time – and emphasised the importance of the work of welcome. He said:
“Migration from Hong Kong will reshape Britain – as important as the Windrush generation or the Ugandan Asians who came 50 years ago. This is the first time we’ve tried to get integration right from Day One – and it’s important that we make it work for new arrivals and for local communities too.”
The Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers helps to coordinate the UK’s welcoming efforts across civil society, communities, business, education and government. It conducts research to inform policy and shares best practice around the integration of Hong Kongers. It also supports welcoming organisations working to help new arrivals from Hong Kong to settle and integrate in the UK.
The Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers, housed at the charity British Future, is one of the national VCSE grant recipients for the Hong Kong BN(O) Welcome Programme, administered by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.