SOCIETY

More Hongkongers renewing British overseas passports amid political unease

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 April, 2015, 4:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 April, 2015, 9:53am

More Hongkongers are choosing to renew their BN(O) passports marking a turnaround in the document's decline, the British government revealed.

The number of British National (Overseas) passports renewed by Hongkongers rose 22,022 last year, after falling to a near-record low of 7,654 renewals in 2011, according to British government figures provided in response to a freedom of information request.

The number of passport renewals has increased by 40 per cent each year since Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took office.

That trend followed a decade-long slump in renewals. In 2004, there were some 88,000 renewals.

Martin Lee Chu-ming, founding chairman of the Democratic Party, suggested the trend came from an increase in Hongkongers who wanted British citizenship as they were dissatisfied with the current climate.

The British Consulate in Hong Kong declined to comment.

The special passport works as a British travel document but does not guarantee right of abode. There are some 3.4 million BN(O) passport holders in Hong Kong.

Current figures show the number of BN(O) renewals in Hong Kong topped an eight-year high, amid recent protests and discontent over political reform.

A HK$600 price cut to British passports in April last year put the price of a new BN(O) passport at about HK$1,200, and the rate of renewals ticked up to 43 per cent.

Hongkongers with BN(O) status frequently allow passports to expire after 10 years because a Hong Kong 32-page passport costs HK$370 to renew and gains more visa-free entry abroad.

New data also showed the number of BN(O) citizenship renunciations remained broadly flat despite some high-profile pro-Beijing supporters, such as Robert Chow Yung, who have declared their intent to renounce their British passports.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said it was "hard to conclude" whether renewals stemmed from Hongkongers who wanted the document as a form of insurance against political instability.

He said it may be a matter of convenience as holders of two passports had more visa options when travelling. He also pointed out the surge could be a natural effect of the passports issued 10 years ago expiring.

However, Lee said the surge "would be consistent with the public perception that more people want to leave Hong Kong for good for the way the Chinese government has been handling Hong Kong, particularly since CY Leung became chief executive."