As China appears set to impose a new security law depriving Hong Kong of its freedom of speech and assembly, its independent judiciary, and demoratic rights, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is offering a potential escape route to people from Hong Kong. Johnson vowed to make one of the biggest changes in the history of the British visa system, offering a path to UK citizenship to nearly 3 million Hong Kong residents.

There are currently 350,000 Hong Kong residents who hold a British overseas passport and 2.5 million more are eligible for one. They may be able to obtain 12-month renewable visas to live and work in the UK.

“If China imposes its national security law,” said Johnson, “the British Government will change our immigration rules and allow any holder of these passports from Hong Kong to come to the UK for a renewable period of 12 months and be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship. This would amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history.”

Dominic Raab, the UK’s foreign secretary, told the House of Commons he hopes China will reconsider its decision. “There is a moment for China to step back from the brink and respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and respect China’s own international obligations,” he said.

In the meantime, Raab told MPs that the government is currently looking at several options that would provide a pathway to UK citizenship for Hong Kong residents.

“If China proceeds to justify their fears,” said Johnson, “then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative.”