Why BNO is a much better choice than HKSAR for passport

January 07, 2016 17:51
A growing number of Hong Kong people are considering renewing their BNO passports. Photos: Bloomberg, Wikipedia

When the going gets tough, the tough get a British passport.

That may explain why there is such a sudden surge in demand among Hongkongers for a renewal of their British National (Overseas) (BNO) passport – or so it seems.

The BNO passport was made available for 3.4 million Hong Kong citizens before the 1997 change of sovereignty.

But the renewed demand for the document, according to discussions on social media, was spurred by the controversy over the disappearance of Causeway Bay bookstore owner Lee Bo and his four associates.

There's wide speculation that he was arrested in Hong Kong by mainland security authorities and taken across the border for investigation, putting into question Beijing's sincerity in abiding by the "one country, two systems" principle.

How Lee was able to return to China without a mainland visa only deepens the mystery.

But as it turns out, Lee is a British citizen, a holder of a UK passport, as confirmed by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Britain, in fact, has expressed deep concern over Lee's disappearance, which should put a warm glow in the hearts of some BNO passport holders. 

Although BNO passport holders understand that they won't be able to enjoy all the rights and privileges of a British citizen, they know that if they are kidnapped and taken to another place, they can count on one more help, instead of relying solely on Hong Kong police and government officials.

Many Hong Kong people are horrified by our dear Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who on Tuesday suggested that Lee Bo himself should take the initiative to contact the Hong Kong police. Is this the kind of help we can expect from our government?

There is no doubt that being a BNO passport holder has its advantages, as explained by Simon Shen, associate professor and director of the Global Studies Programme at the Faculty of Social Science of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and lead writer (global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal. His Facebook post about the matter won 10,000 likes within 24 hours.

“BNO is definitely better to have,” wrote Shen, “because if the Hong Kong political structure changes, or the 'one country, two systems' is canceled, or other countries withdraw their recognition of the HKSAR passport, BNO will get you to other parts of the world, and provide the last escape door.”

Shen pointed out that a BNO passport can get you to 189 countries, including some former British colonies that require a visa for Hong Kong passport holders.

In case of emergency, one can get help from the British Consulate, and stay in most European Union countries.

The only drawback is the fact that you cannot become the chief executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. But considering all the troubles CY Leung faces everyday, who's interested in the position, anyway?

Interestingly, not many Hongkongers have bothered to renew their BNO passports. Out of the 3.4 million qualified passport holders, only 22,000 renewed their passports, compared with 88,000 in 2004, according to data from the British Consulate General in Hong Kong.

One reason for the big drop in numbers could be the cost of passport renewal. A 32-page BNO passport now costs 102.86 pounds (HK$1,167), compared with HK$370 for an HKSAR passport. The 48-page version costs 110.86 pounds (HK$1,258), compared with HK$460 for the local one.

But if a few hundred dollars more can offer a double insurance over a period of 10 years, why not?

There are also shortcomings in our local passport. HKSAR passport holders can only get visa-free access to 152 countries, excluding, among other destinations, the United States, Australia, India, Saudi Arabia and Bhutan, according to Secretary of Security Lai Tung-kwok.

Despite an increase of 25 visa-free destinations – most notably Russia and other Eastern Europe countries – in the past decade, Hong Kong still trails behind Singapore and Malaysia in this regard.

Also, according to Lai, there are 17 countries such as Vietnam, Iran and Burma that offer visas to Chinese citizens but not to HKSAR passport holders.

[BNO Renewal in Hong Kong]

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EJ Insight writer