Universally respected

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 August, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 August, 1997, 12:00am

Danny Gittings' article on the BN(O) passport headlined, 'A passport to nowhere' (Sunday Morning Post, July 27) is misleading and inaccurate. In order to minimise any possible damage which his article may have caused to confidence in the BN(O) passport, both in Hong Kong and abroad, I am writing to set the record straight.

The answer to the question, 'Does the BN(O) passport give the immigration authorities of third countries the right to send the holder back to Hong Kong?' is a categorical 'Yes'. By virtue of their former status as Hong Kong British Dependent Territories citizens, all BN(O)s have the right of abode in Hong Kong. Hence the BN(O) passport contains the following endorsement: 'The holder of this passport has Hong Kong permanent identity card no . . . which states that the holder has the right of abode in Hong Kong.' Those BN(O) passport-holders who are also foreign nationals may lose their right of abode through prolonged absence from Hong Kong. But any who do so will still be returnable to Hong Kong. This is because they will have the right to land, a right which is enshrined in the revised Hong Kong Immigration Ordinance. Section 7A(1) of the Immigration Ordinance states: ' . . . a person who had the right of abode in Hong Kong before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region but who loses the right after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has the right.

'(a) to land in Hong Kong; '(b) not to have imposed upon him any condition of stay in Hong Kong, and any condition of stay that is imposed has no effect; and '(c) not to have a removal order made against him.' There is therefore no reason for third countries or BN(O) passport holders to have any doubts about the status of the BN(O) passport. Indeed, contrary to the implication in Mr Gittings' article, the BN(O) passport is universally respected. One measure of this is the fact that the governments of more than 80 countries afford visa-free entry to BN(O) passport holders. Moreover, BN(O) passport holders have an excellent record of abiding by the immigration rules and laws of other countries: out of a total of 37.1 million outbound journeys made by Hong Kong residents in 1996, only 104 individuals were repatriated by foreign countries.

It might also be helpful to remind any of your readers who are in doubt that a BN(O) passport is renewable throughout the lifetime of the holder. This can be easily done, either at the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong or at British diplomatic or consular offices abroad. Far from being destined to become 'little more than a historical curiosity' as Mr Gittings professes to believe, the BN(O) passport will remain a useful and widely accepted document for very many years to come.

FRANCIS CORNISH British Consul-General