More than 200 Hong Kong drivers have been barred from obtaining a British licence without taking a test, after Britain tightened requirements for a reciprocal arrangement that allows for direct exchange of licences.
Under an agreement between Hong Kong and Britain, a driver who holds a licence in one place can normally obtain a licence from the other without further examination. But British authorities tightened the rules after reports that the system had been exploited by people seeking British licences from countries not recognised under the reciprocal arrangement, who had taken advantage of loose screening by the Transport Department to obtain a Hong Kong licence first as a gateway to a British one.
In one case, an agent helped an Indian driving licence holder first get a Hong Kong licence, then a British one, as a direct exchange agreement exists between India and Hong Kong, but not between India and Britain.
Fraudulent documents, including an envelope with a false Hong Kong address provided as proof of address, were involved in the case. Applicants for a Hong Kong licence must live here.
In January, British authorities started to ask applicants from outside the European Union to prove they had passed a driving test in a place "where the testing standards are comparable with those in Britain".
Britain's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency told the South China Morning Post that the new policy had led to the rejection of 268 applications from Hong Kong by the start of May.
Other places that have an agreement with Hong Kong, but not with Britain, include the mainland, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Pakistan, Malaysia, Canada and the United States.
The city receives more than 30,000 applications a year from overseas licence holders, and most are approved. Only 97 applications out of 36,970 were rejected last year.
The department said those found to have been issued licences based on fraudulent documents would have their licences cancelled. It cancelled 14 in 2010.
The department said that in verifying the authenticity of an applicant's licence, it would seek confirmation from the consulate or transport authority of the issuing country.
Lawmakers Wu Chi-wai, of the Democratic Party, and Gary Fan Kwok-wai, of the NeoDemocrats, called for a review of the department's procedures in verifying applications. They said the department had failed to act as a gatekeeper and that if the situation continued, Hong Kong's reputation would be harmed.