US senators revive bill to make refugee status easier for Hong Kong protesters

WASHINGTON: A bipartisan group of senior US senators reintroduced a bill on Tuesday (Feb 9) to make it easier for people from Hong Kong fearing persecution after joining protests against China to obtain US refugee status.

The 12 senators, led by Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bob Menendez, said the bill was a response to a national security law introduced by China in Hong Kong last year that was the focus of mass street protests.

The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act would make “Hong Kongers who participated peacefully in the protest movement and have a well-founded fear of persecution” eligible for processing as refugees in Hong Kong or a third country.

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Refugees from Hong Kong would not be subject to a numerical limitation, a statement from the senators said.

The proposed law would also make it easier for dissidents to seek asylum by waiving provisions that make suspected intent to immigrate or a criminal record disqualifying factors for non-immigrant visas.

READ: Timeline: The impact of the national security law on Hong Kong

Additionally, it would make Hong Kongers who have their residency revoked eligible for refugee status as victims of political persecution.

“The US must do all it can to assist those Hong Kongers who have courageously stood up to defend the city they love from the CCP’s persecution and open our doors to them,” Rubio said.

Menendez said the aim was “to reiterate to the Chinese Communist Party that the United States stands foursquare with the people of Hong Kong” and to show they would not “fall through the cracks of our broken immigration system”.

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The bill was reintroduced because a previous version expired when a new Senate was seated last month.

The new Biden administration’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has said the United States should accept people fleeing the Hong Kong crackdown.

“If they’re the victims of repression from Chinese authorities, we should do something to give them haven,” he told NBC news late last month.