Anxiety was undue, passport data shows

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 July, 2007, 12:00am

Demand for BN(O) passports in Hong Kong has plummeted since around the handover, with few residents choosing to renew them.

Before April 1997, the Immigration Department issued 3.4 million British National (Overseas) passports. But last year, just 31,000 people chose to renew, the British consulate said.

On March 30, 1996 - the cut-off for applying to become a British Dependent Territories Citizen (BDTC), a prerequisite for applying for a BN(O) passport - a daily record of 21,745 applications was received.

Scenes of people lining up outside Immigration Tower in Wan Chai - particularly images of four men arrested after coming to blows over queue jumping - captured international headlines.

But the chaos seems to have been much ado about nothing, with the consulate yesterday confirming that since around the time of the handover, it had handed out fewer than one-third the number of BN(O) passports it did before Hong Kong was returned to the mainland.

Since April 1, 1997, the consulate has issued 800,000 BN(O) passports, which are valid for 10 years.

In 1998, just under 47,000 people renewed their BN(O) passport. The peak year was 2001, when 170,000 renewed, but by last year, just 31,000 had.

This 'reflects the success of the handover arrangements 10 years on, and the faith of Hongkongers in Hong Kong and its future', said a consulate spokeswoman.

'British National (Overseas) status is for life, and a BN(O) passport can be renewed at any time, even when the passport's validity lapses.

'For the 3.4 million people eligible to hold the passport, this is a lifetime commitment.'

More than 500,000 of the passports were handed out between 1999 and 2003, when there was still an element of uncertainty.

The BN(O) passport, which was introduced in 1987 to replace the BDTC passport, which expired in 1997, allows visa-free access to the Britain and about 100 countries, including most of the European Union.

Holders are also eligible to apply for a free United Kingdom Residence Permit for study and work.

The Hong Kong SAR passport was introduced in July 1997 and had 4.15 million approvals before April. It allows visa-free access to 134 countries, including the United Kingdom, with the number expected to grow.

High anxiety

As handover fears swept Hong Kong, the passport clamour peaked on March 30, 1996, when the number of applications in one day to become British Dependent Territories Citizens hit 21,745