Hong Kong Premier League

Stateless and stranded in Hong Kong, a footballer’s career is at risk after UK Home Office blunder

Vas Nunez could miss out on a contract for next season at Hong Kong Premier League side R&F in Guangzhou after UK government gaffe in citizenship application

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 10:14am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 10:51pm

Vas Nunez should be in Guangzhou training for Hong Kong Premier League side R&F’s next football match. But instead the 22-year-old has been holed up in Hong Kong hotels and sleeping on his brother’s sofa for nearly a fortnight.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Nunez is fluent in Cantonese and has lived in the city for most of his life. But now a paperwork error by British bureaucrats in the gifted centre back’s passport application has left him stranded, stateless and staring at what could be a premature end to a promising career.

“I’ve had to leave my team in China and will miss countless training sessions and games because I’m stuck in Hong Kong with no nationality,” said Nunez.

“I have to negotiate and sign a new contract for next season, but because of this it’s put everything in jeopardy.”

A commanding defender at R&F, Nunez – who has a Mexican mother and an English father – wanted to represent the place he considers home at the Asian Games this summer in Indonesia, where Hong Kong will field an under-23 side. 

But that meant giving up his Mexican and UK citizenship so he could qualify for a Hong Kong passport. 

It seemed like a no-brainer.

“Ever since I got the opportunity to play in Hong Kong, I’ve always wanted to represent Hong Kong,” said Nunez, who played for Glorysky Sun Hei when they were still in the Premier League before joining R&F, a satellite club of Chinese Super League team Guangzhou R&F, in 2014.

“I’ve always considered myself a Hongkonger. So when I was called up by the national team I’ve just tried to do everything possible to get my passport.”

Nunez, who gave up his high school education in Hong Kong so he could pursue a full-time career in football, began the application process and everything was going smoothly. 

Having finalised his renunciation of Mexican citizenship, he arrived back in Hong Kong on April 13 to complete his Hong Kong passport application. Normally a first-team starter, he was only used as a substitute for R&F’s 3-1 win against BC Rangers at Sham Shui Po Sports Ground last Sunday, because he had missed nine days of training. 

The UK government had sent him the final two documents he needed to fill in, but had mistakenly put “renunciation of British National Overseas” on one form, and “British citizen” on the other.

Nunez was unaware of the difference and continued with his application, which was then rejected by an immigration officer in Hong Kong, who said the UK government was at fault for filing two different letters, and that it was its responsibility to solve the issue.

Nunez said he had called, emailed and gone in person to the British consulate in Hong Kong to discuss his case, but staff there had told him there was nothing they could do because he was no longer a UK citizen.

The British consulate referred a request for comment to the UK Home Office, which had not replied by Wednesday afternoon (Hong Kong time).

The Mexican consulate has tried to assist Nunez, though it takes a lot longer to acquire a Mexican passport because the process is more complicated.

Nunez is now stateless and cannot leave Hong Kong, but could still play in R&F’s final two Premier League games this season at Wofoo Tai Po and at Lee Man.

“I’m not sure I will be selected for the next two games,” he said. “I won’t be able to train at all until the game day.”

“It’s just ridiculous how the British government has made this mistake but won’t take responsibility and fix the problem that will ruin my career.”

Missing out on the Asian Games would also mean missing a golden chance to impress scouts from other clubs, who will be watching. 

“It’s been my goal to play in the Chinese Super League and playing for the national team would definitely bring those opportunities,” said Nunez.

“It’s just a shame if I can’t get my Hong Kong passport in time I won’t be able to represent Hong Kong this summer, which will effectively take everything I’ve worked for away.”