Hong Kong migrants in UK wait for 2.2 billion pounds in pensions

April 26, 2023 10:48
Photo: Reuters/https://www.mpfa.org.hk/en

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong people who have emigrated to the U.K. cannot withdraw their money from the Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) until they have obtained British citizenship, a process that will take at least five years.

This is because the SAR government does not recognise the BNO passport as a valid travel document. Therefore, it does not recognise a Hong Kong person emigrating to the UK with this passport as proof of having permanently left the city.

This view was reiterated by Christopher Hui, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, during a visit to London last week. He was there to promote opportunities in Hong Kong’s financial services.

An estimate by UK advocacy group Hong Kong Watch said that the HK migrants were being blocked from withdrawing up to 2.2 billion pounds of assets. It reached this figure by multiplying the average MPF balance of HK$224,000 by 96,000, the number of BNO visa holders who are not dependants or children.

“It is a blanket ban on BNO holders accessing property that is theirs,” said Sam Goodman, director of the group’s policy and advocacy. “It is a punishment for those emigrating to the U.K.”

Lawyers said that the migrants should be able to withdraw the money after gaining full UK citizenship, as long as the MPF accepted this as proof of having left the city permanently.

Figures from the MPF show that, in 2022, 31,700 migrants withdrew HK$8.02 billion, down 11 per cent from 2021.

Critics of the government say that the migrants to Britain are being treated unfairly, compared to those who have migrated to Canada, the U.S. and other countries and are able to take out their MPF money. They are being punished for being “unpatriotic”, a decision based on politics and not equity.

Supporters of the government say that the migrants to Britain may not succeed in their application for citizenship and that, in any event, they will be paid when they reach 65. The money remains theirs.

Hui’s visit to Britain was his first to that country since London accused China of violating the Sino-British Joint Declaration. It was the first H.K. ministerial visit for over three years.

He made a lunch speech at the Hong Kong Association and gave a briefing at Asia House on green and sustainable development in Hong Kong. He met two Ministers of State and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. He also paid a courtesy visit to Zheng Zeguang, China’s ambassador to UK.

“As two of the most important global financial centres, Hong Kong and London have plenty of opportunities to co-operate and thrive together,” he said.

Opinion within the ruling Conservative Party is divided. Those concentrating on business and finance supported Hui’s visit, especially because the city of London has been losing business since Britain left the European Union. They say that the country must maximise the benefits of trade and investment with China.

“China is the second largest investment destination for the UK and China has been the second largest investor in the UK for years,” the China Daily said in an editorial on April 25. “The Chinese side still keeps its door open to UK companies and investment, and this despite the great lengths the UK has gone to in setting restrictions for Chinese companies and investments.

“The UK’s poor economic situation and financial instability only highlight China’s irreplaceability to the UK, making (Rishi) Sunak’s anti-China discourse a hollow show,” it said.

But other members of the Conservative party criticise Beijing for having reduced the democratic and civic rights of Hong Kong people with the National Security Law. One of them is Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, an outspoken critic of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments. He criticised Hui’s visit.

“It is imperative that we make it clear to the Hong Kong official in question that their actions are unacceptable, and that they are not welcome in the UK unless there is a significant improvement in the situation in Hong Kong. We cannot normalise these egregious violations and betray the people of Hong Kong,” he said.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.