Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

British citizen of Gurkha descent threatens legal action against British government for ‘state-sponsored discrimination’ against him as he applies to renew his passport

  • Hong Kong resident Tsewang Bhotia, 43, says he has been asked to submit 13 additional documents to get a new passport
  • Bhotia, son of a former officer in the British Army, says he may take a class action if there are sufficient numbers of other Gurkhas affected
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 December, 2018, 7:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 December, 2018, 1:09am

A British citizen of Gurkha descent in Hong Kong is threatening to take the British government to court over the “state-sponsored discrimination” he is undergoing in his passport renewal application, saying he felt humiliated by the “nonsense”.

Tsewang Bhotia, 43, director of a headhunting firm, applied to have his passport renewed last month, expecting the process to take three to four weeks.

His nightmare started when the Passport Office wrote to him and requested that he submit 13 additional documents, which he described as “nonsense”.

Among the documents requested were his school records dating as far back as possible; his family tree dating back to his grandparents; photos of himself with his parents since birth; his father’s British Army Service book; and his father’s Army camp letter given when he was discharged from service.

“I was stunned. When I was looking at this [list], I was like, what is this?” he said. “I will be looking at legal action”.

He said he has not decided whether to take an individual legal action or a class action – to gather more people in similar ordeals to sue the British authorities together.

“If we take legal action, we have a strong chance because you can clearly see this is discrimination. No other citizens of the UK are being asked this, and no other ethnic groups are being asked this. Why suddenly the Nepalese?”

The Gurkhas are Nepali soldiers who served in the British army, and to whom the UK government granted citizenship.

During the colonial period when Hong Kong was ruled by the British, the Gurkhas lived in army barracks, isolated from the rest of society, until they were thrust into the midst of an overwhelmingly Chinese community when British rule ended in 1997.

In May, about 100 Gurkha descendants protested outside the British consulate in Hong Kong, complaining about the delays in receiving their passports. Some said the application usually took four years.

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During the protest, British consulate staff handed the protesters a letter by Mark Thomson, the passport office’s director general, who promised that his office would “urgently” review the delays.

He also said that the hold-ups were caused by people falsifying connections to the Gurkhas.

But what Bhotia could not understand was that he was not applying for his first British passport. He was applying to have his existing one, which he received in 2008, renewed.

“When I applied for my passport for the first time, did I face any real difficulties? The answer was no,” he said.

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Bhotia was born and raised in Hong Kong. He received his British National (Overseas) passport in 2005, and his British passport three years later.

He was married to a British woman and they have two children. None of them have had any problems with their passport applications.

“[Mark Thomson] stated that some frauds are taking place. I don’t know what kind of fraud he was talking about. He was probably referring to identity fraud. If that’s the case, what you are doing now is trying to label all of us as fraudsters by giving us this nonsense [the letter],” he said.

With the hold-up, Bhotia has already cancelled work trips to Singapore and Jakarta this month, as well as other trips to Southeast Asia in the coming months. He has also cancelled several family trips.

“I am in the people’s business. I need to meet people,” he said. “If I am not going to be travelling for a year, it’s going to have an impact.”

Asked about Bhotia’s case, a spokesman for the British Home Office said that all applications for a British passport, including renewals, are treated “on their own merit”.

“Her Majesty’s Passport Office will not issue a passport until all checks to confirm nationality and identity have been satisfactorily completed,” he said.

The list of documents the Passport Office has asked Tsewang Bhotia to submit:

1) School records dating back as far as possible

2) Hong Kong birth certificate

3) Hong Kong permanent identity card

4) Nepalese relationship certificate relating to him and his parents

5) Nepalese citizenship certificate

6) Nepalese passport(s)

7) Marriage certificate

8) Family tree showing his relationship back to grandparents (maternal and paternal)

9) Photos of himself with his parents since birth (in chronological order)

10) Successive identity documents for himself from birth to the time of issue of his first British National (Overseas) passport

11) Parents’ current identity card

12) Father’s British Army service book (if applicable)

13) Army camp letter (if applicable)