Cost fears on UK passport office closure
The cost of getting a British or BN(O) passport may rise with the closure of the British consulate's passport centre.
Charles Hay, director of consular services at Britain's Foreign Office, said the centre would close in April 2014, after which holders of British passports, including British National (Overseas) passports, would have to apply directly to Britain.
This was one of many steps Britain was taking to improve its passport services, enhance security and provide 'economy of scale', he said.
There would not be much change in the cost of getting a passport, Hay said. The current application fees for a British passport are HK$1,600 for a 32-page passport and HK$1,932 for one with 48 pages.
London was considering lowering the fees for applications, he said, but acknowleded applicants would have to cover the big expense of sending documents to Britain by courier. 'The aim is that people will be able to apply online. But they still need to send original documents and any supporting documents through to the UK,' Hay said.
In response to recent reports about businessmen worried that renewal of passports in Britain may take longer and restrict their travel plans, a spokeswoman for the British consulate in Hong Kong said that businesspeople who were frequent travellers could obtain a second passport as a backup. And when their passports were not readily available, they could apply for an emergency travel document.
The British government recently announced it would centralise the printing of all passports in Britain for security reasons. Hay said this was one of the key ways London could improve its passport services.
About 250,000 Britons live in Hong Kong, and 3.2 million British Nationals (Overseas) passports had been issued, Hay said.
BN(O) passports were issued to Hongkongers who registered before the handover in 1997. The holders do not have right of abode in Britain.
Briton Amanda Chapman, who teaches English in the city, said passport services already cost too much: 'It is unfair. We send money back to Britain and we are paying an awful lot of money [for passport services].'
Asked whether British passports cost too much, Hay said it was London's policy not to use taxpayers' money to cover the production of the travel documents.
Meanwhile, Hay said that Hong Kong would be the base of a new regional rapid deployment team as part of a government effort to improve crisis response. In case of crisis, the team would deploy officials to affected areas to reach out to Britons.
'We have learnt over the years what you need to have is people on the ground to provide assistance,' he said.
Hay noted that Hongkongers who hold BN(O) passports can enjoy full consular assistance if they face difficulties overseas.