Only one valid passport allowed, Hong Kong confirms, after it was revealed that detained Huawei executive Sabrina Meng was in possession of three from city
- Sabrina Meng had at least seven passports – four from mainland China and three from Hong Kong, court documents showed
- Immigration Department says new and previous HKSAR passports can be ‘cross-linked’ but old one is still invalid
Holders of Hong Kong passports can only have one valid version at any one time, immigration authorities confirmed on Sunday night, after it was revealed that a Huawei Technologies executive recently detained in Canada was in possession of three travel documents from the city.
The drama involving Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, detained in Vancouver at the behest of the US, spread to the city over the weekend after court documents showed she had at least seven passports – four from mainland China and three from Hong Kong.
A spokesman for the Immigration Department said it did not comment on individual cases but confirmed that holders of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passports could only possess one valid one at a time.
There were circumstances where the holder could apply to have an old invalid – expired, damaged or out-of-date – passport combined with a new one, such as if there was still a valid visa in it, the department said. But the old passport itself would still be invalid.
“Cross-linking of HKSAR passports means making an endorsement on both the previous and new passports to the effect that the previous passport bears a visa, which is still in force, but the previous passport shall be cancelled,” the spokesman said.
“Any holder, therefore, shall not be in possession of more than one valid HKSAR passport at any time.”
Legal experts and politicians in the city had questioned why Meng was able to possess multiple Hong Kong passports, with lawmakers calling on the department to investigate.
Meng, chief financial officer at Huawei and a daughter of the Chinese telecom giant’s founder, was arrested on December 1 and faces extradition to the US, which alleges she covered up her company’s links to a firm that tried to sell equipment to Iran in defiance of sanctions.
“In the past 11 years, Meng has been issued no fewer than seven different passports from both China and Hong Kong,” a letter from the US Department of Justice to Canada read, claiming she was a flight risk. It also listed the numbers of the seven passports.
Earlier on Sunday, former secretaries for security Lai Tung-kwok and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee – both of the pro-establishment New People’s Party – played down fears about holes in the city’s immigration system. The pair also previously headed the Immigration Department.
The Post also learnt that Meng likely had just one valid Hong Kong passport, but carried her expired ones when travelling as they contained visas.
“In general, it is possible for Chinese nationals who are permanent residents to own one valid Hong Kong passport … if for whatever reason it must be changed, say, the pages are all full or it is damaged, then the person will need to apply for another but the old one must be cancelled,” Lai said.
“A person with multiple SAR passports is not news but the most important point is that at a certain point of time she only has one valid one.”
Ip said from the court documents and media reports, there was insufficient evidence to show Meng possessed more than one valid Hong Kong passport but added that since she was arrested as an HKSAR passport holder, the government had a duty to follow up.
“It’s possible she may have three in her possession, some may be expired or damaged but those should already be rendered [cancelled] and void,” Ip said.
Lai said it was not illegal for Hong Kong passport holders to also have travel documents from elsewhere.
Official data from the US Customs and Border Protection showed 33 departure and arrival records for Meng in the country between June 2014 and March 2017.
She last used her first Hong Kong passport (KJ020XXXX) to enter the country in November 2014. The most recent entry using her second Hong Kong passport (KJ040XXXX) was in February 2016. She last used her latest passport (KJ047XXXX) in February 2017.
She was allowed to stay for six months upon each entry.
The Democratic Party’s James To Kun-sun, vice-chairman of the Legislative Council’s security panel, urged immigration officials to investigate to dispel doubts.
On Saturday, University of Hong Kong law academic Eric Cheung Tat-ming noted that the three passports all started with “KJ”, suggesting they were issued within a short period and it was unlikely she could have gone through so many passports so quickly.
However, a government source said all Hong Kong passports started with the initial K, while “KJ” only indicated the document was jumbo-sized, meaning 48 pages instead of the standard 32.
The pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions, meanwhile, held a rally outside the US consulate on Sunday morning to protest against the “unreasonable arrest” of Meng and called for her immediate release.
The 46-year-old executive was detained while changing planes in Vancouver, ratcheting up tensions between the US and China just as the countries’ leaders agreed to a truce in their trade war.
China has also ramped up the pressure on Canada, accusing the country of “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people” and threatening “grave consequences”.