New rules mean British overseas passport holders must submit applications to UK
Applications for British passports will go to a processing centre in the UK from today as part of cost-cutting and security tightening
Jeffie Lam and Gary Cheung
Holders of British National (Overseas) passports will have to submit renewal applications by mail to a passport office in Britain from today, rather than to the consulate in Admiralty.
The British consulate in Hong Kong said in a statement that the change followed a review by the National Audit Office and was designed to achieve economies of scale, greater security, and consistency in decision making.
British nationals, including British National (Overseas) passport holders, were previously asked to submit passport applications to the consulate's passport centre. Applications will now go to the Passport Customer Service Centre in Liverpool.
BN(O) passports were issued to Hongkongers who registered before the handover in 1997. These passport holders do not have the right of abode in Britain.
A consulate spokesperson said the number of passports issued in the city, including those for British citizens, soared from 25,757 in 2011 to 34,526 last year. At the end of last month, 35,092 had been issued this year.
Current application fees are HK$1,600 for a 32-page passport and HK$1,932 for one with 48 pages. That is about four times the price of an HKSAR passport, which costs HK$370 and HK$460, respectively.
The number of countries and territories that have granted visa-free access or visa-on-arrival to HKSAR passport holders has grown since the handover, and now stands at 147, versus 118 for the BN(O).
On March 30, 1996 - the cut-off date for applying to become a British Dependent Territories Citizen, a prerequisite for applying for a BN(O) passport - a record 21,745 applications were received by the consulate in one day. 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.
Christopher Hammerbeck, executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, said he believed the change would have little impact, since the consulate had promised application processing times would not change.
Former Democratic Party lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said he had travelled frequently since he retired but would not be renewing his BN(O) passport.
"It's very convenient to travel with an HKSAR passport," he said. "The travel value of the BN(O) is no longer critical."