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Biden Extends Protections for Hong Kong Residents in U.S.

WASHINGTON—Hong Kong residents in the U.S. will be permitted to stay for at least two years even if their visas expire, under a White House order preventing their deportation to the city, where China has imposed a withering crackdown on political dissent. 

In a memorandum issued on Thursday, President Biden extended the Deferred Enforced Departure program for Hong Kong residents, which offers legal protections to Hong Kongers currently in the U.S. Those protections were set to expire on Feb 5. 

Under the program, Hong Kong residents can receive work permits so they can live and work in the U.S. legally while they are covered by the temporary humanitarian protections. Any Hong Kongers in the U.S., such as students, tourists or employees on work visas, are eligible, even if their visas have expired. 

Hong Kong activists and rights groups in the U.S. have been urging the Biden administration to extend the deferral status. The program was instituted two years ago as Beijing tightened controls over antigovernment protests, dissent and civil society activism in Hong Kong. That clampdown has continued unabated, including arrests and trials.

“Conditions described have worsened in the past 18 months,” Samuel Chu, president of the advocacy group Campaign for Hong Kong, which lobbied the administration over the extension, said on Twitter. 

Mr. Chu said the program has helped about 4,000 Hong Kongers in the U.S. avoid political persecution, rigged trials and detention. He said Thursday’s White House order could expand the numbers that will be protected.

The White House didn’t provide an estimate of how many more people would gain protection under the program’s expansion.

Hong Kong, a former British colony and a global business hub, returned to Chinese rule in 1997, with Beijing guaranteeing at the time a degree of political autonomy and civil liberties for the city for at least 50 years.

Beijing has routinely criticized U.S. statements and actions on Hong Kong as interference in China’s internal affairs and has previously taken exception to the deferred departure program, calling it an attempt to manipulate Hong Kong as a tool to contain China.

In extending the program, Mr. Biden cited a 2020 national security law imposed on Hong Kong that gives Beijing a stronger hand in policing dissent in the city, and other steps China has taken that the U.S. president said erode human rights.

“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,” Mr. Biden wrote in the memo. 

Write to Andrew Restuccia at andrew.restuccia@wsj.com and Charles Hutzler at charles.hutzler@wsj.com

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