Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu stressed on Monday that a person can be in possession of only one valid HKSAR passport at any given time, dismissing talk of multiple passports being issued to any particular individual.
Lee pointed out that if a person applies for HKSAR passport replacement, the old passport will automatically be canceled upon issuance of the new document.
The security chief told reporters that on the approval of a passport replacement application, immigration officers will first ask the applicant to surrender his or her passport so that they can cancel that passport before giving the applicant the new passport together with the cancelled one.
People will have only one valid HKSAR passport, but there will be cases where travelers will carry both the old and new passports, if the old canceled passport still has a visa which remains valid, Lee said.
Lee said he won’t comment on individual cases, but the comments came in the wake of a passport-related controversy surrounding a mainland Chinese corporate executive who has been arrested in Canada and is awaiting extradition to the United States.
In documents filed in a Canadian court following the arrest of Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei Technologies, the US Justice Department said it believes Meng was in possession of multiple passports, including some issued by Hong Kong.
According to the department, Meng had used seven passports, including four issued by China and three by Hong Kong, to enter and depart the United States in the past 11 years and that it is possible Meng may have possessed some passports which the US government was not aware of, other than the seven discovered ones.
Following the revelations, there have been concerns in Hong Kong, with observers questioning how authorities could have issued multiple passports to the same person.
On Monday, Lee dismissed such fears, saying the chance of any individual having multiple valid HKSAR passports is an impossibility.
The scenario of a person holding three valid HKSAR passports simultaneously for immigration purposes shouldn’t occur, the official said, adding that if such a thing did indeed happen it would not normal.
Lee’s boss, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet Ngor, also weighed in on the Meng passport matter, saying on Tuesday that the Chinese telecoms executive was holding only one valid HKSAR passport at any time.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a weekly Executive Council meeting, Lam said Meng had sought new HKSAR passports in the past and that the reasons she gave, such as damage to the existing passport and a change of personal particulars, had been found acceptable.
Lam stressed that all of Meng’s old HKSAR passports had been canceled, and that the mainland executive held only one valid HKSAR passport at any point.
It is not proper for the government to comment on an individual case about the issue of passports, since “it concerns privacy and personal data”, Lam said.
But in light of the special circumstances and the exceptional nature of this case, Lam agreed that the Immigration Department look into the case and announce the outcome of its case file review.
Lam said she decided to give an account of this matter to “prevent ill-intentioned individuals” from using the incident to cause any harm that would affect HKSAR passport holders, RTHK reported
Meng has been arrested by Canadian authorities on Dec. 1, at the request of the US, in relation to Huawei’s alleged violation of Washington’s sanctions against Iran.
Apple Daily cited a source as saying that the Canadian court has not said clearly whether the three HKSAR passports that were purportedly held by Meng were simultaneously valid.
In response to media enquiries, Hong Kong’s Immigration Department said that it “has reviewed the relevant records and confirmed that the assessment, issuance and cancelation of the passports of the person concerned had been performed strictly according to the relevant laws and regulations.”
Reiterating that any HKSAR passport holder shall be “in possession of only one valid HKSAR passport at any time”, the department emphasized it “has a comprehensive system to ensure the HKSAR passports being issued in an effective and accurate manner.”
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who is deputy chairman of the Legislative Council panel on security, said he wondered why Meng’s lawyers did not clarify it to the court if she actually had held only one valid HKSAR passport.
To demanded that the government look into the incident, which will help plug any potential loopholes in the system and ensure that the international community does not question the credibility and reputation of Hong Kong’s travel document issuance system.
In related news, some members of the pro-democracy political group Neo Democrats submitted a petition to the Immigration Department on Monday calling for an explanation on the Meng passport saga.
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