MPF issue may drag BNO migrants' feet

Central Station | Mary Ma 27 Oct 2020

Take a quick guess on how many British National (Overseas) status holders will move to the UK at the end of the day.

London's Foreign Office predicted a total of 200,000 over the next five years.

But the actual numbers will depend on a number of variables, including how Beijing is going to react to the BNO visa.

For example, instead of stopping families from leaving, will a tough line from Beijing cause these families to accelerate their plans due to fears that they may never be able to go if they don't leave now?

Immediately after Britain announced that the new visa will be open for application on January 31 for as little as 250 (HK$2,520) for a five-year visa, Beijing reacted with anger and threatened once again to stop recognizing the BNO passport as a travel document.

Probably that Hongkongers will no longer be allowed to leave using a BNO passport if Beijing stops accepting the document. In such a scenario, travelers may be stopped from boarding a flight after showing a BNO passport or even from booking a flight with it.

But they can readily overcome this by using a SAR passport, only to present the BNO passport at Heathrow or other UK airports.

Bear in mind that, under the new visa scheme, the British government does not even require the arrival to have a current BNO passport as long as they have an expired copy or their records stored on the Home Office's database.

There has also been the suggestion that immigrants using a BNO visa may lose their permanent residency in Hong Kong if Beijing keeps retaliating.

That would certainly be possible if Beijing insists. But then, laws would have to be amended thoroughly since Hongkongers are born with the right of abode - and this is a right independent of the passport. Could this be another can of worms to open?

However, if Beijing revokes its recognition of the BNO passport, this may provide legal ground for the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority to refuse to release retirement savings early to applicants who are settling in the UK with a BNO visa.

The word "may" is used, as some applicants are bound to challenge the denial in court.

It is likely that Beijing is more concerned about the probability of an immense outflow of capital than the leaving of some who do not share Beijing's patriotism. Even if 200,000 people leave, it's still a small number for the mainland.

If each of the 200,000 is assumed to be carrying 12,000, or HK$120,000, for six months of living expenses, they would take at least HK$24 billion out of the SAR. And the amount could more than double since many of these BNO holders will be leaving with non-BNO dependants.

Even so, this is still the most conservative estimate.

If 200,000 BNO holders eventually leave with family members, the actual capital outflow could be much bigger as immigrants tend to leave with every dollar they own.

In the final analysis, Beijing is looking at ways to stem an impending capital flight.

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