• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 1:53pm
NewsHong Kong
INVESTIGATION

Hongkongers caught in UK passport renewal chaos fork out HK$1.3m

Residents caught in renewal backlog foot bill of HK$1.3 million as British consulate in city tops worldwide list in issuing emergency papers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 August, 2014, 6:16am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 10:12am

Britain's cash-strapped government has made more than HK$1.3 million from Hong Kong residents seeking emergency passports amid a massive backlog in renewals, the Sunday Morning Post has discovered.

A request under Britain's Freedom of Information Act revealed the Hong Kong consulate issued the most emergency passports of any of the nation's 306 diplomatic missions in each month of the year to June.

In the first six months, the consulate issued 1,065 emergency travel documents, an increase of 63 per cent on the same period last year.

Each cost HK$1,280, putting total revenue at HK$1.36 million.

London's Foreign and Commonwealth Office refused to be drawn on why so many emergency papers had been issued in Hong Kong.

But many Britons and holders of British National (Overseas) passports have sought emergency papers amid lengthy delays in renewals that threatened travel plans.

The backlog came after overseas passport offices, including Hong Kong's, were closed in December, and the work transferred to Her Majesty's Passport Office in Liverpool.

The consulate promised that the cost-saving measure would not mean delays.

But as many as 500,000 passports were caught in a backlog, and travellers have faced waits of up to four months to renew.

A Foreign Office spokesman said more than four million passports had been issued this year, with demand at its highest level in 12 years.

"Since January [the passport office] has been putting steps in place to deal with the extra demand, including bringing in extra staff," the spokesman said.

But corporate activist David Webb, who had to wait nine weeks to have his passport renewed, said the British government should pay back those who had been forced to use emergency documents.

"They shouldn't have to pay twice: once to renew and [again] because there's a delay in a renewal," Webb said. "Basically they should stop charging until they resolve the delays."

The number of passports reported lost or stolen in Hong Kong - the usual reason for emergency passport requests - declined year on year, British figures show.

The delays have affected not only the city's 250,000 British residents but also more than three million Hongkongers with BN(O) passports. Most holders of BN(O) documents - introduced before the 1997 handover - also hold Hong Kong passports, but must give all travel documents to British authorities during renewal.

By last month, Britain was still processing some 350,000 passport applications.

The Foreign Office has slashed costs after its budget was cut from £1.6 billion (HK$19.3 billion) to £1.36 billion.

Yet the Hong Kong consulate last year rented the third floor of the Frank Gehry-designed Opus building, home to some of the city's most expensive flats, for consul general Caroline Wilson.

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This article is now closed to comments

Kubrick
I've asked the question before: without a passport office here, what is the UK Consulate doing for British citizens in Hong Kong? Very little by all accounts. Ms Wilson appears to do the round of cocktail parties, but little else. As a UK tax payer, I must say her living in such a plush and expensive flat is an outrage, when we can't even get a basic standard of service. Friends have reported Consulate staff being unhelpful, rude and cutting the line. It appears the British Foreign Service has deteriorated to third world standards.
dynamco
www.theweek.co.uk/uk-news/58948/passport-delays-how-long-does-an-application-take
time they bit the bullet, re-opened the HK issuing office & rehoused the HK consul in 100k a month instead of 800k per month
too bad she would have to slum it in 100k a month apartment
HK consulate seems nothing more than an overseas British trade office + party joint + f cuk the customer service for overseas British Citizens
dibona
I'd say a damn site more than HK$1.3m has been spent. What about people who simply cannot wait a couple of months for a passport and where the Emergency Passport isn't an option (e.g. if visa in old passport is required) - and so have to fly to London for renewal as part of government's cost saving measures so as to enable the disgrace of a Consul-General to show her contempt to us all by "slumming" it in the Opus.
Dao-Phooy
Come on UK - re-instate the passport renewal facility to show you have continued faith in HK!
allan94
wow, never thought i'd see the day when the UK is more backward than india.
lucifer
"Britain's cash-strapped government has made more than HK$1.3 million"
Why does that read like they were making money.....? Most likely it just covers the costs associated with the process.
How much do you think the Chinese government makes charging Americans a surcharge for their visas?
lucifer
Because a BNO actually provides consular protection.
Nonetheless, if you want to avoid hassle and secondary checks in Europe and the USA, thanks to the frauds and tricks of your Mainland cousins, use the BNO instead. Your life will be a whole lot easier.
My colleague recently traveled to the USA as he usually does twice a year, never overstayed or violated the conditions of his visa and upon attempting to enter, ended up in secondary inspection for 3 hours. The printout immigration gave him that had a remark "passports associated with NAME" and he had "CHN" and "HKG" every third or forth line. Apparently, upon entering, the confused agents admitted him as being from China when he only has an HK passport. Thanks to the glaring PRC emblem and the worlds People's Republic of China on the front.......this is what you get.
MOSNT
The UK government could not care less. We pay a premium for passport services and they can't get it right much of the time-- and we pay for their mistakes. Brits in HK pay high prices for China visas because the UK overcharges Chinese nationals for visas too.
rastuspmcfarter
I LIVE IN QATAR AND IF I WANT TO RENEW MY UK PASSPORT, I MUST SEND IT TO DUSSELDOF IN GERMANY!! I FIND THAT DISGUSTING. WE FOUGHT 2 WORLD WARS AGAINST BEING RUN MY GERMANS AND THEY ARE NOW IN FULL CONTROL. IF I WANT IT RENEWED I HAVE TO WAIT A MONTH AND PAY A HUGE FEE. IF I WANT ANY SIGNATURES ON DOCUMENTS, I MUST PAY A HUGE FEE FOR EACH SIGNATURE. WHAT DO THE STAFF DO IN THE CONSULATES. MOST ARE NOT EVEN BRITISH BUT ARE INDIANS, NEPALESE ETC.
sunnymedina
Why bother renewing your BNO if you have a HK passport?

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