The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act is the first of the two bipartisan proposals. It makes Hong Kong residents with a well-founded fear of political persecution eligible for Priority 2 refugee status, which would let them bypass the U.N. refugee system and non-governmental organizations responsible for vetting Priority 1 refugee claims. Although the original idea, which came from a Heritage Foundation report last August, was to designate all Hong Kong residents as eligible for P-2 status, the bill as written would apply to the more than 3 million people who have participated in pro-democracy protests since last summer. And notably, the legislation would also make it easier for pro-democracy leaders, journalists, and first responders to seek asylum in the United States.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act, the second bill, extends eligibility for temporary protected status to residents of Hong Kong and offers up to 50,000 special visas to highly skilled workers from the city. Crucially, it also speeds up the process for refugees from the city to apply for legal residency in the United States — a provision inspired by the legislation enacted to protect fleeing Chinese students after the Tiananmen Square massacre. These proposals were drafted to avoid overlap, and they would advance the dual goals of taking in Hong Kong residents who choose to flee Beijing’s rule while also increasing the number of highly skilled immigrants in the American workforce. Taken together, these bills would be a solid first step, but the American response to Beijing’s assault on Hong Kong can do more in this regard.