THOUSANDS of people crowded into the Immigration Department's headquarters in Wan Chai yesterday in a bid to beat the deadline to qualify for the British Nationality Scheme. The last-minute rush was triggered by the need to register for naturalisation as Hong Kong British citizens. Residents who are naturalised as Hong Kong British citizens can then apply for the final phase of the British Nationality Scheme. Under this phase, 12,000 British passports will be available to Hong Kong British citizens after they apply early next year. But some of those rushing to register yesterday appeared confused as to what they were queueing for. Senior Immigration Officer Eric Chan Kwok-ki admitted there had been some misunderstandings. ''I want to make it clear that CI [Certificate of Identity] holders who are not interested in the British Nationality Scheme can apply for naturalisation after tomorrow's deadline,'' he said. ''The deadline is only for those CI holders who want to apply for British citizenship under the scheme.'' Mr Chan said about 2,200 certificate holders had submitted their applications for naturalisation between November 1 and 11, an average of 220 on each working day. He said this was 10 times more than he would expect on a normal day. He could not estimate how many of those who rushed to the Wan Chai headquarters yesterday were potential applicants for the British Nationality Scheme. And although Mr Chan would not guess how many people would go to the office to beat today's deadline, he said the Immigration Department was prepared to deal with a large number of applicants, and that it would have enough manpower to make sure that nothing would get out of hand. He said the Wan Chai office would open today from 7:30 am to midnight, instead of the normal 9 am to noon opening hours. Independent legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing said the Government should have done a better job to make it clear to the public that today's deadline was only for those who want to be naturalised for the British Nationality Scheme. But she also blamed the people who had misunderstood the message: ''They should have listened carefully.''