Legal limbo over, now for wedding bells

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 February, 2006, 12:00am

Family delighted stateless status is about to end

Sabina Panjabi and fiance Prakash Melwani, both BN(O) passport holders, faced passing on a heritage of statelessness to their future children.

The children would not have been entitled to even British National (Overseas) status but now the threat of that legal limbo has been avoided.

The British Home Office has corrected an error resulting from a misinterpretation eight years ago of an Indian law, meaning hundreds of ethnic Indians in Hong Kong, denied British passports, may be granted full citizenship.

Neesha Panjabi, Sabina's mother, said the nationality issue had been a real concern and one that 'really bugged' her before this week's change of policy by the British government. But it was never a threat to the young couple's wedding, which will take place as scheduled in July.

The family was yesterday elated by the news that Sabina, 26, and her brother Ashwin, 23, may finally get full British passports.

Family head Mohan Panjabi, an exporter, and his wife both have full British citizenship, but Sabina and Ashwin were rejected in April 1998 on the basis that they were minors deemed to be Indian citizens, not 'solely British', based on the misinterpretation of the Indian Nationality Law. Mr Panjabi said: 'It is funny [that they were considered Indian citizens] because they actually have to get a visa to go to India - we surrendered our Indian passports a long time ago.'

He said the lack of full British passports for the children made it awkward for the family to travel together to places like the United States and the United Arab Emirates where the parents had visa-free access but the children did not.

'Some immigration officers did not know what a BN(O) passport was. My son, in filling out a form for his US work visa, was asking me a few months ago what his country of citizenship was. We are very grateful to those who have been lobbying for our cause and really working very hard at it.'

Tameem Ebrahim, who has been campaigning for years for the error to be rectified, said it was 'a point of honour' for the British government to deal fairly with this group of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong.

'It is wonderful news that the substantial effort putting the matter right has yielded the right result,' he said.