Thousands of Hong Kongers, including students and others, who are living in the United States can remain for up to 18 months, thanks to the Biden administration’s authorization of deferred enforced departure (DED) in response to anti-democracy crackdowns in Hong Kong. DED recipients can apply for work authorization through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Renewal of DED in the future is possible, depending on evolving circumstances.

President Biden’s statement on DED for Hong Kongers also called for Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), “to consider suspending regulatory requirements with respect to F-1 nonimmigrant students who are Hong Kong residents.” That has not happened yet, but stay tuned.

Students, Others Targeted

Targets of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) recent and ongoing actions against dissenters and pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong include university students. According to reports, PRC officials have employed a national security law imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 to arrest vocal student leaders and protesters and search student unions. 

DHS Secretary Mayorkas said the decision to offer safe haven to eligible Hong Kongers in the United States was made “based on the ongoing assault on democracy, and rights and freedoms, in Hong Kong” by the PRC. President Biden said in a statement that over the last year, “the PRC has continued its assault on Hong Kong’s autonomy, undermining its remaining democratic processes and institutions, imposing limits on academic freedom, and cracking down on freedom of the press.” He also noted that DED for Hong Kong residents “furthers United States interests in the region.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the PRC “has fundamentally altered the bedrock of Hong Kong’s institutions.”

Avenues for Relief Expand

A Department of State spokesperson said that in addition to DED, Hong Kongers can be referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for consideration as refugees. In July, a coalition of seven Hong Kong activists in exile, including several former Hong Kong lawmakers, and 18 pro-Hong Kong democracy organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Congress to urge legislation granting Priority 2 refugee status and resettlement to Hong Kong citizens with a well-founded fear of persecution, along with temporary protected status for those in the United States and visas for highly skilled Hong Kong U.S. residents with an associate’s degree or above. One of the letter-signers, ex-Hong Kong lawmaker Baggio Leung, came to the United States to seek asylum. The Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act 2021, co-sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and introduced in the U.S. Senate in February 2021, would offer similar protections.

DED is not a green card, or even a path to a green card. It simply means you won’t be deported for up to 18 months. You might qualify for a green card, however, through an existing green card category. For a consultation on your specific situation, contact Miller Mayer.

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