Renewal applications for British National (Overseas) (BNO) passports have risen 150 percent in the three years to 2015.
The increase averaged more than 40 percent in each of those three, Apple Daily reports.
Last year, renewal applications topped 26,000 compared with just under 11,000 in 2012.
People have lost confidence in “one country, two systems” and want a safety net, the report said, citing political commentator Johnny Lau.
“Even if a BNO passport is not an ideal protection, it is better than nothing,” he said.
“Hong Kong people would rather hold on to a lifesaver even if it’s leaky.”
Hongkongers were not as interested in an escape hatch in the early years after the 1997 handover to China given Beijing’s milder policy then.
Executive councilor Regina Ip, a former security minister, played down the numbers, saying these are a short-term trend.
“Hongkongers are discriminated against by the British because they might not be given any consular protection,” she said.
Ip said Hong Kong people consider their BNO passport only as a travel document because it is not as widely accepted as a Hong Kong passport.
Legislator Paul Tse said BNO passports are not national passports but a stop-gap measure by the British government to skirt responsibility for Hong Kong.
He said the British government offers assistance to a select number of BNO passport holders as a token gesture.
For that reason, Hong Kong people are not seeking extra protection as happened before 1997, he said.
Cheung Chi-kong, executive director of One Country Two Systems Research Institute, said BNO passport holders are considered Chinese nationals even if they do not hold a Hong Kong passport.
A BNO passport does not bestow its holder any nationality, he said.
Meanwhile, the British government has relaxed border controls for Hong Kong passport holders, allowing them to enter the country without having to fill in an arrival card.
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