Posts Tagged 'dennis chong'

The Price of Identity

A student came to me a few weeks ago with a problem (as many 18-21 years old have) of money. They were basically in a predicament of having to buy their own passport as a young adult. For Hong Kongers who were born in British Hong Kong pre-1997, they were legally classed as ‘British Nationals (Overseas)’ or BNOs. This was an option available by application and was non-transferable to a different category – the deadline for applications being 31 December 1997.

Hong_Kong_British_Passport408px-Cover_of_HKSAR_e-Passport

The student who had this problem is very interested and enthusiastic about Britain. They ask me a lot of questions about the UK and would like to visit one day, if not study or live for a longer time period. They ended up paying a lot of money to secure their identity as a BNO so they could fulfil their dream.

This got me thinking about the problems people here may face in getting the official identity status that they feel they are.

1) The Practicalities

Dennis Chong  wrote in the South China Morning Post on 15 August 2012 about the threat of cost increases  for HK-ers to apply for BNO Passports. The threat of increases is due to the Coalition Government’s cost-saving measure to close Hong Kong’s British consulate’s passport centre by April 2014. On a pragmatic basis, this means that HK-ers wanting to apply for a BNO passport (renewal or otherwise), will have to apply directly to Britain – sending their important documents 600 miles away to London – and be without them for much longer than if they applied to the office in Hong Kong. This is just one of the forces acting against people here, who want to remain BNOs as oppose to just solely Chinese Nationals.

http://www.scmp.com/article/1003693/cost-fears-uk-passport-office-closure

2) The Cost

This was the main issue for my student. Basically, the cost difference between wanting to remaining  a BNO is astonishing and can be a huge financial barrier to people who want to remain a BNO. 

For a British passport, the current application fees are HK$1,600 for a 32-page passport and HK$1,932 for one with 48 pages.

With recorded delivery postage and other costs after the closure of the British Consulate’s passport centre, this would be relatively higher.

From June 2006, the cost for a HK SAR Passport was HK$370 for a 32-page passport and HK$185 for a child’s passport.

Furthermore, the cost of a straight-out People’s Republic of China Passport is HK$430.

In Pounds Sterling, for an adult over 16 years old, we’re basically looking at:      British Passport: £137     HK Passport:  £32     Chinese Passport: £37

3) The Numbers

Even if you’re the sort of person who gets a passport to keep in a drawer and visiting other places isn’t your thing, the cheaper options are clearly the most attractive and practical to get. We can see this through the statistics. Chong’s article provides some useful information:

  • About 250,000 Britons live in Hong Kong
  • 3.2 million British Nationals (Overseas) passports had been issued (to people who applied pre-31 Dec 1997).
  • The number of Hong Kong SAR passports in circulation by year is as follows:
  • 2010: 4,261,263
  • 2009: 4,088,337
  • 2008: 3,934,288
  • 2007: 3,920,780
  • 2006: 3,670,115
  • 2005: 3,326,200
  • 2004: 2,959,900

 

To summarise, the laws of the status of British overseas citizens are highly confusing: there are so many, their names change and the acts mean different things in different places. The stats show though, how limited the 7 million people who live here, are when choosing an identity. There are people here, like my students, and a colleague of mine (Who once had a conversation with me in his Marks & Spencer’s suit, “I miss Chris Patten!”), who don’t have a huge issue with the cost, as their identity means so much for them. These people are clearly in a minority when it comes to the practicalities of applying for a passport though.

I don’t really know what I think about the topic, as I’m lucky to be a full British citizen with the right to abode in the UK: the biggest issue for me was when my passport photo made me look like a scally. The Coalition Government really isn’t making it easy for people here to be officially a BNO with such costs and impracticalities, which I find the hardest thing to accept. If someone feels they belong to a certain identity, surely governments and the relevant departments should support their choices and make it easy for them to be recognised as it. But then again, the whole area of national identity, passports, visas, immigration is such a complicated area, you can see why it’s so complex. In the end though, if people feel their belonging strong enough, nothing can really stand in their way of it.

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