• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 12:50am
NewsHong Kong

British prime minister urged to act to fix Hong Kong passport delays

British Chamber of Commerce says renewal holdup is damaging trade

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 May, 2014, 11:54am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 May, 2014, 4:13am

Britain’s top trade body in Hong Kong has urged Prime Minister David Cameron to intervene over long holdups that are plaguing people trying to renew their passports in Hong Kong.

Christopher Hammerbeck, executive director of British Chamber of Commerce, said delays of up to three months were a serious business issue and warned it would have an impact in terms of "cost, delays and the inability to travel”.

“We raised the matter with the consulate. I also raised the matter with the MP who represents business interests in the House of Commons, and we have also had it raised with Number 10 Downing Street,” he said.

London closed the regional passport office at its Hong Kong consulate on December 28 and started issuing the travel documents from its passport office in Liverpool.

Consular officials have declined to say how many people have been affected, but the number is believed to be in the hundreds. According to the 2012 consular census, there were 250,000 full British nationals and 3.4 million British National (Overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong.

A spokeswoman for the government in London said: "It is to do with transferring from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's regional passport processing centres to Her Majesty's Passport Office."

Renewals previously took up to four weeks. However, consular officials have warned that renewals would now take at least six weeks and first-time applications could take eight weeks or longer.

"If you are planning any overseas travel in the coming weeks and months, please do not leave it until the last minute," acting consul general Karen Bell warned this month.The delays extend to the renewal  of all types of British passport holders internationally.

Some expatriates in the city have already had to wait up to three months for a new passport.

The chamber said assurances that closing the regional office would not affect the service meant nothing.

Hammerbeck said the system worked  well for a few months. “We were getting passports back in two or three weeks,” he said.

The backlog surfaced in March..

“Clearly they haven't kept to their end of the bargain. It’s not seamless and smooth,” Hammerbeck said.

He said the chief executive of the passport office had been summoned to a conference in London attended by Hong Kong Consul General Caroline Wilson.

Some expatriates who need new passports within four weeks are being forced to buy an emergency passport, which costs HK$1,200 and allows only a single trip. Normal application fees for a 10-year passport are HK$1,340 for a 32-page passport and HK$1,450 for 48 pages.

Katherine Horgan, an exchange student on an education visa expiring this week, was told to wait three to six weeks, and now has no choice but to apply for an emergency passport.

"I sent my application on time, they gave me a time frame, and I worked to it. I booked flights - non-refundable - for [Sunday], and my visa runs out [on Monday]," she said. "They are forcing me into a position where I will be staying in Hong Kong illegally against my will."



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This article is now closed to comments

I've been badly affected by this, I'm glad its finally in the media spotlight.
I was told my passport renewal would take a maximum of 4 weeks, it's been 7 weeks since they received my application in Liverpool and still nothing. This has meant I could not renew my visa to work in HK. With an expired visa, my details have been totally wiped from the system which means I can get no support online or over the phone and I can get no appointment at the immigration office.
Everything has become very complicated for me but I feel that I did nothing wrong by leaving a 3 week cushion beyond the specified maximum time needed to process my application.
Communication from the UK has been non-existent and when I have called HM Passport Office I have been kept on hold for nearly an hour, being passed to different advisers, none of which had any useful information for me. Once I phoned the hotline and they just disconnected me instantly because the queue was so long. Of course, there was no courtesy from them to explain the situation, heaven forbid!
It seems that overseas applications are less prioritized. In the UK you can pay extra for a fast-track service but that's not available to us abroad, so clearly my application is sitting at the bottom of a big pile that keeps getting overtaken by domestic fast tracked applications.
Its not as if this is a free government service, I paid 175 pounds to get a new passport so there's absolutely no excuse for such an appalling service
Elsewhere in the news, the British Consul General has been offering advice on governance. Does this lady have no shame after this debacle. How dare anyone from the UK government talk about governance and lecture Hong Kong, when they can't even get basic public services right. Meanwhile, they waste money on outrageously expensive accommodation for Ms Wilson. I hope the UK press pick up on this disgraceful mess and we finally get some action to resolve it.
An application to renew passport was sent to the UK some 15 weeks ago. After one week, when checking the website for progress of the application, it showed "documents received, being processed". This has not changed in 14 weeks, and on the weekly phone calls to the UK to check on progress one is told to call again in a weeks time. I was chastised for applying in the peak season, and after enquiring when that was I was told "from February to November". Quite amazing, and distressing as the valid passport has to be sent with the application, so travel is not possible.
And meanwhile at the British Consulate ... cocktails anyone?
Headline says: "British prime minister urged to act to fix Hong Kong passport delays."
Turns out they are not Hong Kong passports at all.
Where was the editor?
5 days to get an Aussi new passport... just saying..
Renewing is one thing. I'm applying for first passports for my children. I lodged papers on the 10th March 2014.
Going on 3 1/2 months and no response to emails.
Not good enough, especially given the outrageously high fees people have to pay. No doubt the Cameron Govt.'s spending cuts have created this situation, despite the fact that if the passport service was run privately it would run at a profit.
Passport chaos threatens to ruin the half term getaway as overwhelmed staff struggle to issue documents in time
• Passport applications are up by 300,000 on the same period last year
• Staff struggling to process the documents in time for next week's break
• Claims some holidaymakers are being advised to pay £55.50 fast-track fee
• Whistleblower says customers left waiting on phone for up to an hour
• Delays caused by HM Passport Office having eight staff to take 1,000 calls
By Louise Eccles and Ian Drury and Jack Doyle
Published: 21:42 GMT, 23 May 2014 | Updated: 19:20 GMT, 26 May 2014
wow, so many - 8 staff
It's not only Hong Kong it applies to ALL UK expats living overseas like my daughter in Beijing who has been waiting almost two months since applying by mail to the HMPO! Can't leave China with summer holidays looming! Bought flights already! And how are they supposed to check up? Phone long distance and wait for an hour for somebody to answer and then get a unhelpful reply? This situation is REALLY bad. Let's see what effect Cameron might have: probably none?



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