Lords back citizenship for BN(O) holders

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 April, 2009, 12:00am

Peers in the House of Lords last night endorsed a long-desired change to British immigration law, which would open doors to Britain for thousands of Nepali and South Asian people currently living in Hong Kong.

The amendment to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill sought to give full British citizenship to a group of British National (Overseas) passports holders who do not have citizenship in any country.

Speaking in the debate, Lord Avebury, of the opposition Liberal Democrats, said he was grateful to the Labour government for adopting his amendment, which would solve the long-standing problem in the immigration system that left some of its former colonial subjects stateless.

'When transferring Hong Kong to the Chinese, the government did promise to leave nobody stateless. But in the end it did leave people stateless. This amendment now rectifies this anomaly,' he said.

Lord Brett, speaking on behalf of Lord West of Spithead, the Labour government's Home Office spokesman who co-sponsored the amendment, said the amendment would 'provide a new route' for BN(O) holders in Hong Kong who are stateless to become British citizens.

'I would confirm that was a relatively small number,' he said, saying the figure to benefit would amount up to 'thousands'.

Last night the lords continued to debate and vote on the remaining clauses of the bill. Lord Avebury's other amendment which dealt with the transfer of citizenship by descent was withdrawn.

Lord Avebury expected the bill to be quickly passed by the Labour majority when it reaches the House of Commons. He said the application for citizenship could begin in the summer.

About 8,000 British Dependent Territories Citizens - mostly former Gurkhas in the British forces and their descendants - were granted British citizenship before the handover in 1997. But some, including those who did not fulfil the requirement of being ordinarily resident in Hong Kong on or before February 4, 1997, were denied citizenship.