• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 2:01pm
NewsHong Kong
BUREAUCRACY

Hongkongers react angrily to news UK was warned about passport delays in January

Brits caught in travel chaos irate that consulate kept them in the dark when it stopped service

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 June, 2014, 12:36pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 June, 2014, 3:05am

Hong Kong residents who have waited months to renew their British passports are angry London did not warn them earlier about potential delays for overseas applications.

Thousands of people have waited for up to four months because of a backlog.

British Home Secretary Theresa May on Thursday introduced special measures to fast-track urgent cases for travellers based in the UK.

In Hong Kong, anyone renewing an existing passport will be able to apply to the British consulate for it to be extended for 12 months. No additional fees will be charged.

Families and individuals have been forced to postpone holidays and business trips. One person missed a family funeral because of the delay. Some have resorted to getting an emergency travel document, which costs almost as much as a replacement.

Many of Hong Kong's 3.2 million British National (Overseas) passport holders, issued before the 1997 handover, and 250,000 Britons have been left in limbo as Her Majesty's Passport Office, based in Liverpool, struggles to clear a backlog of applications.

The responsibility for issuing passports overseas was transferred to the office after consulates around the world stopped processing applications in December. It now has to deal with 350,000 applications from overseas a year.

At a British parliamentary hearing in January, officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which used to be in charge of issuing passports overseas, warned lawmakers that closing the service was risky and delays could be expected for people applying from overseas.

Despite that warning, it was not until May 21 that the British consulate issued widespread alerts about longer processing times. Teacher Clare Stearns, who waited for 10 weeks for a new passport, described the anxiety and vulnerability she felt during the prolonged wait.

Stearns, 60, a Hong Kong resident for 35 years, applied in March to renew her 48-page passport. New application fees for a 10-year passport are HK$1,340 for a 32-page document and HK$1,450 for 48 pages.

Stearns said that if she had known about the delay she would have flown back to London to get a new document.

"It was distressing; you couldn't get any information and you had no idea how long it would take," she said. "Wherever you were in the world, whatever trouble, you could always go to your local embassy. But in this case, the door was shut on me."

Events organiser Greg Hunt said he waited for 10 weeks for his new passport.

Paul Neale, who applied on behalf of his 14-year-old son, received the passport more than four months later.

It took lawyer Richard Healy three months to get his new passport, while exchange student Katherine Horgan is still waiting for hers after 11 weeks.

Home Secretary May said the government was "doing everything we can", as she signalled that Her Majesty's Passport Office could be brought under government management.

Ministers have yet to address issues concerning travellers who run out of space on their passports. Business travellers have complained that the 48-page passport, the largest offered, is still too small.

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16

This article is now closed to comments

impala
Come on people, not so sour. The Consul General only moved into her 35 million pounds sterling flat less than a year ago. And look, it is 4,600 square feet of prime living space, okay?

Do you have any idea how much effort and time is required to decorate and furnish a 4,600 square feet flat, especially when your entire budget is paid for by taxpayers? No, you don't, so please, of course Ms Wilson and her Foreign & Commonwealth Office are too busy to occupy themselves with affairs of you silly little people who don't hold a diplomatic passport.
Dao-Phooy
This fiasco lies squarely with the British Government. The chaos is just as bad for British citizens in the UK. Teresa May and David Cameron and George Osbourne must take the blame. Cutting the service in HK was a huge error at the time - austerity measures. But now with an improving economy the cut backs in the number of staff was never addressed. I guess travellers to the UK will have a high chance of facing more chaotic scenes as they try to clear immigration this summer.
juliangroves
no signs of austerity at UK consulate:
****www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1257385/british-envoys-pricey-home-goes-over-top?page=all
Kubrick
Joking aside, what does the UK Consulate do? My American, Australian and Israeli friends tell me they have regular contact with their consulates, who take the initiative to conduct outreach and provide advice. I've resided here decades and never once had contact except to renew passports. They have our contact details. So what is the UK Consulate doing for UK citizens in Hong Kong? Nothing, as far as I can tell.
cymrulad
How about providing emergency passports for free?
gardnerguitar@icloud.com
A typical British farce
I'm going back this summer for a holiday...with trepidation
Once I get my emergency kiddy travel documents
Blame must fall on our useless rotten government
Government people are supposed to be our civil servants, supposed to serve us
They just serve themselves
Send them to prison that's what I say
539bc3b0-02dc-4dd4-98b7-08e10a3209ca

From: Paul Johnson [xxxxxxxxxxxx]
Sent: Saturday, 14 June, 2014 01:23
To: 'ministerforimmigration@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk'; 'james.brokenshire.mp@parliament.uk'
Subject: Attention of James Brokenshite - Minister for Security and Immigration
Dear James Brokenshire
Please find below an email sent to the Home Secretary earlier today regarding the unacceptable period for processing renewals for British passports.
The present series of delays in issuing passports in the UK and the huge delays in issuing passports to British Nationals living overseas are a direct consequence of the bureaucratic decision to close British passport issuing centers around the world and to centralise this process in the UK. From the many press reports I have read today it seems that the British Government’s response is to pretend that reasonable targets are being met for issuing passports. This approach is not going to fix the problem.
Individually the many British nationals affected by this are likely to be ignored by the government so I have today written to every press office in the UK regarding this problem. I personally know hundreds of British Nationals in SE Asia who are directly affected by the inability of the British Government to renew passports in a reasonable timescale. The freedom of travel is a fundamental human right that the British Government is taking away from its citizens by failing to issue internationally required passports within a reasonable timescale
Dao-Phooy
Report in the Guardian that the Government was aware there would be an increase in the number of applications because of the decision to cut the overseas passport service. The aim was to save £120 million and create120 jobs in the UK. This fiasco has cost them more than the proposed savings and shown Cameron and May out to be, let's be charitable, economical with the truth in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
joyalsofi
Ah, the joys of downsizing and 'reform' on the road to total privatization. What could go wrong?
juliangroves
Sent mine off on March 4th for renewal. Still not arrived. Received an email saying it has been processed and sent by courier. That was a week ago. Still not arrived. Meanwhile our consular staff continue to live as though they were enjoying the last days of the Raj. I suggest we lobby to restore our passport service at the British embassy.
Anyone interested in doing something about this situation? Pls contact. jools.gloves@yahoo.co.uk

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