When Hong Kong maths teacher Jessica was freed from jail last year following her arrest during the territory’s massive pro-democracy protests she decided it was time to leave her home city and head abroad.
The 28-year-old is among thousands of Hong Kongers who have recently moved to Britain to build new lives following Beijing’s crackdown on dissent in the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
With Britain crying out for teachers, Jessica was confident she could quickly resume her career, but schools have repeatedly turned her down because she has not provided background checks from the Hong Kong police.
“Teaching is a real vocation for me. It’s been my dream job since I was young. But I’m really struggling with this because I don’t want to contact the Hong Kong police,” said Jessica, who asked not to use her full name.
She has been open about her reasons for refusing to contact the police force that arrested her during the protests, but employers want proof her record is otherwise clear.
While Jessica’s case is unusual because she has a conviction, it highlights a wider problem for some Hong Kong job seekers. Requests for police documents are creating barriers to jobs in education, health and other sectors where employers demand stricter background checks.
Some Hong Kongers, including those active in the 2019-2020 protests, said they did not want to share their personal details with a police force they did not trust. A few feared the risk of arrest if they returned to the city to visit family.
Concerns around surveillance have been stoked by recent news reports - denied by Beijing - that China has established unofficial police posts overseas that could target critics.
I think the Hong Kong authorities are making it difficult for people coming to Britain because they’re worried about a brain drain.
Alex Mak, employment coordinator, Hongkongers in Britain
Others did not want the police to know their whereabouts for fear their assets in Hong Kong might be frozen or confiscated in the future if the authorities knew they had left.
Some Hong Kongers who have recently tried to obtain background checks from the police also said the process had suddenly got much harder – a fact they linked to concerns about an exodus of professionals.
“I think the Hong Kong authorities are making it difficult for people coming to Britain because they’re worried about a brain drain,” said Alex Mak, employment coordinator of Hongkongers in Britain, a group helping new arrivals.
The Hong Kong police website states that it only provides a Certificate of No Criminal Conviction (CNCC) for visa applications and child adoptions, not job offers.
Britain launched a settlement scheme for Hong Kong residents last year after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in the territory in 2020.
More than 140,000 have so far applied for a visa allowing them to live and work in Britain and eventually apply for citizenship.
The programme - which has angered Beijing - is open to Hong Kongers who hold British National (Overseas) or BN(O) status - a limited type of nationality - and their dependents.
China has accused Britain of interfering in its affairs and no longer recognises the BN(O) passport.
Britain has estimated up to 322,400 Hong Kongers could arrive in the first five years, potentially bringing a net benefit exceeding 2.6 billion pounds ($3.05 billion) over the same period.
Most of those relocating are well-educated with three-quarters holding a degree or higher qualification and 60 per cent arriving with children, according to a study by UKHK, a group supporting new arrivals.
Many are looking for jobs in IT, education, accountancy, banking, finance, transport, logistics and health.
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