A last-minute attempt by US lawmakers to push through legislation that would give Hongkongers special refugee status was thwarted on Friday, following an objection by Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

Taking to the Senate floor to block its approval, Cruz, of Texas, called the legislation an attempt by Democrats “to advance their long-standing goals on changing [US] immigration laws”, and claimed that Beijing would exploit relaxed immigration standards to send spies to the US.

Those who would benefit from the bill, called the Hong Kong People’s Freedom and Choice Act, would be subject to background security checks.

Under the bill, Hongkongers would be granted temporary protected status (TPS), joining citizens from 10 other countries including Syria, El Salvador and South Sudan. With TPS, those already living in the US, such as students, would be allowed to stay on in the country past the expiry of their current visa.