Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) were joined by Senators Todd Young (R-IN), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) in introducing the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act. This bipartisan legislation would provide those Hong Kongers who peacefully protested Beijing’s corrupt justice system, and have a well-founded fear of persecution, to be eligible for Priority 2 Refugee status. The bill is also in response to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) actions to implement its Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Many Hong Kongers are already currently living outside the territory for fear of arrest and repression following their participation in last year’s pro-democracy protests.
The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act would:
(1) Grant Hong Kongers Priority 2 Refugee Status: Hong Kongers who participated peacefully in the protest movement and have a well-founded fear of persecution will be eligible for Priority 2 Refugee processing in Hong Kong or a third country. Refugees from Hong Kong will not be subjected to the numerical limitation.
(2) Waive Immigration Intent as a Factor for Non-Immigrant Visas: For those Hong Kongers who have been arrested for protest-related offenses or served in a humanitarian or organizing role in the protests, the intent to immigrate will not be considered as a factor for non-immigrant visas to ease the way for an asylum claim.
(3) Treat Revocation of Hong Kong Residency in Retaliation for Applying for Refugee Status or a U.S. Visa as Political Persecution: If Beijing revokes the residency of Hong Kongers for applying for refugee status or a U.S. visa, then those individuals will remain eligible for refugee status as victims of political persecution.
(4) Sunset Clause: The bill will cease to have an effect five years after its enactment.
U.S. Representatives John Curtis (R-UT), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Mike Gallagher (R-WI) , Brad Sherman (D-CA), Harley Rouda (D-CA), Ted Yoho (R-FL), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Ben McAdams (D-UT), Chris Stewart (R-UT), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Vicky Hartler (R-MO), and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) introduced companion legislation in the House.
Quotes from all of the U.S. Representatives and endorsements of this bipartisan bill are here.
“The world witnessed the courage of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists, who last year took to the streets to defend their autonomy from China’s authoritarian grip,” Senator Rubio said. “Following last night’s implementation of Beijing’s National Security Law, the U.S. must help Hong Kongers preserve their society at home and find refuge for those who face persecution for exercising the rights once guaranteed under the Joint Declaration. Through the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, our nation would offer a safe-haven to many Hong Kongers who have tirelessly fought against tyranny.”
“As the people of Hong Kong continue to face Beijing’s tightening grip on their autonomy, freedoms and basic human rights, the United States must hold its torch high and proud for the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Ranking Member Menendez said. “We are introducing this bipartisan legislation to reiterate to the Chinese Communist Party that we stand resolutely with Hong Kong and its residents, and we will ensure they don’t fall through the cracks of our broken immigration system just because they were forced to flee for standing up for their rights.”
“Earlier this month, I sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo encouraging the United States to work with the United Kingdom and Australia to welcome Hong Kongers seeking refuge from the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian crackdown,” Senator Young said. “I’m proud to take the next step by introducing the bipartisan Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act.”
“China’s official passage of National Security Legislation represents the newest and most serious threat to free expression for the people of Hong Kong,” Senator Cardin said. “Through the Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act, we make clear that where Beijing sees ‘national security threats,’ the United States sees unnecessary targeting of peaceful demonstrations and exercising free speech. This bipartisan legislation demonstrates unequivocally that the United States will not abandon those standing up for their civil rights.”
“After a series of alarming and brutal Chinese crackdowns on the rights of democracy advocates, the bipartisan Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act would help provide those who have been persecuted or fear persecution in Hong Kong a pathway to safety in America,” Senator Merkley said. “We cannot stay silent in the face of flagrant attacks on the freedoms we all cherish and deserve—and we certainly can’t slam the door in the face of Hong Kongers seeking refuge. Our founders hoped that this country would be a beacon of hope for the oppressed around the world, and this bill is in keeping with that vision.”
Rubio is Cochair of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.