Road back home may soon change for BNO departees

Top News | Sophie Hui 10 May 2021

Beijing can decide to change the policy and nationality law, says Lau Siu-kai, vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies.

Hongkongers immigrating to Britain under the new British National (Overseas) visa route would not lose their right of abode in Hong Kong for now.

But Lau, a senior adviser to Beijing, said he expects the central government to eventually change the policy.

Under existing laws, Hongkongers would not lose their permanent residency or their right of abode even after they get a foreign passport.

"From the central government's perspective, its main concern is not about how many people will immigrate to Britain, it's a matter of principle as it thinks Britain is in breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration," Lau said.

"So I think to preserve the dignity of the country and its sovereignty in Hong Kong the central government, sooner or later, will take action."

Lau said Beijing will only take action after it has an overall plan, including how to handle people acquiring British citizenship via the BNO route.

Although China and the Hong Kong government have no longer recognized the BNO passport as a travel document since January 31, Lau said such action was taken at the administrative level and further counteraction requires Beijing to amend the National People's Congress Standing Committee explanations in nationality law.

"Of course Beijing would not recognize the British citizenship obtained through the BNO visa," he said. "So [Beijing] also needs to consider how to handle those people, like what if they want to reside in Hong Kong again and whether their political rights will be affected."

It is unknown when Beijing will make the move, but Lau believed it would not be too long as it also does not want this "unclear" status to remain.

He said the central government should let people know "the price they will be paying" for the BNO scheme, including whether they will lose their right of abode in Hong Kong.

"Beijing has stated that it will launch counteraction against Britain, and if people know what the counteraction is, they may not emigrate," he said.

"To reduce uncertainty, it [Beijing] needs to let Hong Kong people know the consequences of using this visa scheme."

The Immigration Department said its policies on right of abode remained the same.

More than 35,000 BNO passport holders have applied for the new five-year visa scheme in Britain since its launch on January 31. The new visa route allows them to apply for settled status after a five-year stay and citizenship after an additional 12 months. A Chinese citizen born in Hong Kong, even before the handover, is eligible for Hong Kong permanent resident status, and they will not lose such status even if they have emigrated overseas for long periods, according to the department.

The NPCSC also explained in 1996 that Hong Kong residents who are of Chinese descent and born in Chinese territories, including Hong Kong, are considered Chinese nationals, no matter if they hold any foreign passport.

But if people make a declaration of change of nationality or give up their Chinese nationality, they will lose their permanent resident status if they have been absent from Hong Kong for 36 months or more continuously.

Last year, the Immigration Department received 209 cases of declaration of change of nationality and 299 applications for renunciation of Chinese nationality.

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