Many more see BNO passport as ticket out of HK

Top News | Sophie Hui 26 May 2020

An increasing number of Hongkongers are renewing their British National (Overseas) passports and seeking emigration advice amid worries over Beijing's new national security law for Hong Kong.

This comes as the British government mulls over the possibility of offering the right of abode to tens of thousands of BNO passport holders.

In the latest twist, one of Britain's most prominent immigration queen's counsels said Conservative Party ministers were wrong to suggest they are bound by agreements with China to refuse a right of abode to BNO passport holders.

Laurie Fransman, the leading QC on nationality law, wrote to ministers: "Domestic British nationality law has evolved since the 1984 declaration including by giving greater extension of the right of abode to 'British nationals,' including BNOs, in compliance with the expectations of international law."

British citizens, including some BNO holders, were given a right to register, he said, adding: "Manifestly, the UK government did not consider itself barred by the memoranda, or anything else, from taking such action."

He said he endorsed those who claim BNOs can be given a right of abode.

The Sunday Express reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs in a meeting earlier he would be prepared to give Hongkongers refuge - and he has received unanimous support for such a move.

But it is unclear if the refuge will only cover Hong Kong's 315,000 BNO passport holders and their families or the whole 7.5 million population of the city.

Last year, a total of 120,826 Hongkongers renewed their BNO passports, a sharp increase from 14,297 in 2018.

The number of renewals rose significantly after the anti-fugitive protests started in June.

Less than 2,000 renewals were recorded per month before July, but the number climbed to 6,042 in July, and then to 33,501 in October.

It is also understood that there has been a sharp increase in applications and inquiries in the past few days since the national security law was proposed.

A teacher surnamed Chan said she is going to renew her long-expired BNO passport as soon as possible as she is worried about "a cultural revolution" in Hong Kong.

"I am so disappointed and hopeless, seeing another attempt by Beijing to erode one country, two systems with an even worse security law [compared to the fugitive bill]," she said. "I will renew my BNO passport in hopes of having a passport from another country to flee when the situation deteriorates."

She added: "But I don't have any expectations of the British government because it is too weak to stand up to China, even after Beijing has blatantly broken the promises in the Sino-British Joint Declaration."

Inquiries about emigration also surged significantly this past weekend since Beijing's announcement.

Benny Cheung Ka-hei, director of Goldmax Immigration Consulting, said his company on Saturday received three times more inquiries than usual.

"I believe the sharp increase of inquiries since Friday could be related to the national security law," he said.

But he added the pandemic has affected people's income and assets - and their ability to immigrate.

Separately, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said the island will provide "necessary assistance" to Hongkongers.

In a Facebook post, the recently reelected Tsai said the proposed national security law will seriously erode Hong Kong's democracy, freedoms and judicial independence.

She said Taiwan will "more proactively improve and forge ahead with the relevant support work, and provide Hong Kong people with necessary assistance."

Tsai said she may end Hong Kong's special status if the situation continues to worsen by suspending the laws and regulations on Hong Kong and Macau affairs.

Editorial: BNO thrust old wine in old bottle

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