The White House is granting Hong Kong residents who are in the U.S. temporary "safe haven," letting them remain and work in the country for at least 18 months without fear of deportation.

The move, announced Thursday, comes in response to China's imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong that severely curbs free speech and the right to protest guaranteed by the agreement that handed back the city to Beijing in 1997 after a century of British rule.

Under the rule change, the Department of Homeland Security will temporarily defer removal from the U.S. of Hong Kong residents who wish to remain.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in statement that it was meant to show "strong support for people in Hong Kong in the face of ongoing repression by the People's Republic of China."

"Given the politically motivated arrests and trials, the silencing of the media, and the diminishing the space for elections and democratic opposition, we will continue to take steps in support of people in Hong Kong," she said.

The action is certain to elicit an angry reception in Beijing, which has increasingly sought to quash Hong Kong's autonomy despite massive pro-democracy protests there starting in 2019. In a memo announcing the decision, the White House said that more than 10,000 people have been arrested in connection to the protests.

Just days ago, the Chinese government imposed fresh sanctions on a handful of U.S. individuals in retaliation for sanctions imposed by the Biden administration on Chinese officials over Beijing's crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong.

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