The convoluted debate regarding Hong Kong citizenship has its roots in the colonial history of the now booming commercial hub. Hong Kong was a British Colony on lease from China which was set to expire in 1997.The geographical proximity made Hong Kong heavily dependent on China for manysupplies. To make matters further problematic for Britain, China nowhad one of the mightiest armies in the world and would not let Hong Kong slip from its fingers. Stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signed the Sino- British Joint Declaration in 1984. According to its terms, Britain agreed to hand over New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong to China once the lease ended. However, Britain was able to get a concession from the Chinese. Hong Kong would remain a Special Administrative Region (SAR) under China up till 2047. This would mean Hong Kong would retain its freedom of open market capitalism as well as a level of political autonomy from the mainland.

Identity & Passport:

The complex history of Hong Kong has resulted inits residents having varied identities. One may identify as a Hong Kong citizen (despite no legal validity), a Chinese, an Overseas British Citizen or all three at once. This is in part, because there are two types of passports an individual could be holding in Hong Kong. One could hold either a British National (Overseas) passport or a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) passport. The BN(O) passport was issued up till the handover on 1st July, 1997 and since then are only renewed. The HKSAR is issued to Chinese citizens residing in Hong Kong. It is a much stronger passport than a Chinese one and allows visa free travel to dozens of more countries.

The BN(O) passport does not grant “right of abode” which means the passport holder does not have a right to live or work in the UK. Also,BN(O) passport holders cannot pass their status onto their children. Holders of BN(O) and HKSAR passports are both allowed visa free stay in the UK for a period of six months. HKSAR passport holders need to register with the police in Britain which costs USD45. Holders of the BN(O) passport do not have to register with the local police. The BN(O) also confers the same status that is available to a British national in terms of overseas diplomatic posts of the UK and marriage rights.Further,BN(O) passport holders residing in the UK may even join the civil services, military and even vote or stand for elections.

United Kingdom’s Outreach:

China is set to impose a draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong curtailing freedom. Britain along with the rest of the World feels thisconflicts with China’s obligations under the joint declaration. It led the current British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson to declare:

“If China imposes its national security law, the British government will change our immigration rulesand allow any holder of these (BNO) passports from Hong Kong to come to the UK for a renewable period of 12 months and be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship”

There are approximately 350,000 people holding the BN(O) passport and there are 2.5 million people are eligible to apply for them based on what the British PM has put forward. It is pertinent to note that the UK has offered a path to potential citizenship and not immediate citizenship itself to the residents of Hong Kong.

The ramifications of this decision are far reaching and raise significant questions. The UK could definitely benefit from a young, educated, dynamic, democracy- loving, skilled and entrepreneurial class of citizens. It may just be the shot in the arm the UK economy needs. However, accommodating a large talent pool may become difficult in the Covid hit UK economy. It may also be detrimental to the economic interest of the existing work force.

U.S. Immigration Concerns

Apart from being a financial hub, Hong Kong is also an immigration hot spot. Hong Kong attracts a lot of international talent, also Hong Kong citizens are known to immigrate to countries like Australia, Canada, U.K. and the United States. China’s takeover of Hong Kong has harmed the interest of Hong Kong applicants hoping to immigrate to the United States. The United States considers country of birth while granting U.S. Permanent Residence or Green Cards to applicants. China has the World’s largest population. Also, U.S. is a popular immigration destination for Chinese nationals. Resultantly, many green card or permanent residence categories have been over-subscribed by Chinese Nationals resulting in long wait times for Chinese born applicants to receive U.S. Permanent Residence or Green Card. Previously, Hong Kong born investors were not considered as mainland China born investors, therefore, the wait times for Hong Kong born investors were comparatively very less. On 14 July, 2020, President Trump signed an executive order ending preferential visa policies for Hong Kong. This would result in delays in issuance of Green Card to Hong Kong born applicants and increase retrogression for Chinese born applicants. All this may be circumvented if Britain gives the option of abode and citizenship to Hong Kong based BN(O) passport holders or an exception is carved for Hong Kong born applicants.


Author: Ishwar Pratap Singh Sethi

Ishwar is a graduate of Symbiosis Law School, Pune. At Global Immigration Review Magazine he works in the capacity of Content Management Executive. Global Immigration Review Magazine covers global immigration, migration and mobility trends from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Grenada, Cyprus, Portugal, Turkey. Subject matter of coverage includes study visa, work visa, start up and entrepreneur visa, investment immigration like EB-5 visa and Portugal Golden Visa, citizenship by investment and more.