Britain says Hong Kong government has no right to decide which passports are recognized by foreign governments and will continue to issue BNO passports

Britain said Friday (March 26) that the Hong Kong government has no authority to decide which passports are recognized as valid by foreign governments. The Hong Kong government has previously written to foreign consulates in Hong Kong informing them that Hong Kong no longer recognizes the British Overseas National Passport (BNO) and asking them not to accept such passports anymore.

A British Foreign Office spokeswoman said, “The Hong Kong government has no right to ask foreign governments to recognize which passports are valid. The UK will continue to issue BNO passports and these will remain valid travel documents.”

BNO passports were a promise made by the British government to Hong Kong residents when the city was reunited with China in 1997, in the unlikely event that they were used. Since Beijing imposed national security laws in Hong Kong last June, the British side has initiated this arrangement in order to help residents who wish to leave Hong Kong and move to the U.K. BNO passports not only extend the period of stay in the U.K. for Hong Kong residents who hold such passports, but also facilitate their application for British citizenship passports.

It is estimated that about 3 million residents in Hong Kong hold BNO passports or are eligible to apply for such passports.

Reuters previously reported that the Hong Kong government has asked some foreign consulates to no longer accept BNO passports, which many young people in Hong Kong will use to apply for working holiday visas.

According to the Hong Kong Labour Department, “Under the Working Holiday Scheme, participants are allowed to stay in the host economy for an extended period of Time. Participants are also allowed to take up short-term jobs and/or short courses (except in Ireland) during their stay to learn about the local Culture and social development.”

A total of 14 countries have signed working holiday scheme agreements with Hong Kong, namely New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Canada, South Korea, France, the United Kingdom, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy.

According to Hong Kong’s Sing Tao Daily, the Hong Kong Labour Department responded that, as announced by the Hong Kong government on January 29, in line with the “Central Government’s response to the British government’s brutal interference in Hong Kong’s affairs and China’s internal affairs”, the so-called “tailor-made” policy on BNO passports As a countermeasure, Hong Kong will no longer recognize the BNO passport as a valid travel document and proof of identity as of January 31.

The Hong Kong Labour Department also reportedly said that under this scheme, Hong Kong participants under the Working Holiday Scheme are restricted to HKSAR passport holders.

A Western diplomat in Hong Kong told AFP that most of these countries still accept BNO passports under the Working Holiday Scheme and the Hong Kong government has no way to enforce its requirements.

Relations between China and Britain appear to be continuing to deteriorate. Britain announced on Monday that it was launching a sanctions campaign against Chinese officials over human rights issues in China’s Xinjiang. China countered on Friday by imposing sanctions on nine British officials and four entities, while claiming that the British sanctions were based on “lies and false information.

In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, “With immediate effect, the persons concerned and their immediate Family members will be banned from entering China (including Hong Kong and Macau), their property in China will be frozen, and Chinese citizens and institutions will be banned from trading with them.”

British Foreign Secretary Raab responded to the Chinese sanctions by saying, “It speaks volumes that the UK is joining the international community in sanctioning those responsible for human rights abuses, while the Chinese government is sanctioning those who criticize it.”

He added that if the Chinese government wishes to refute allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, it should allow the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to fully verify the truth.