Holders of British National (Overseas) passports have been excluded from a scheme to expedite travellers through the UK border. The news comes despite the fact that BN(O) holders are technically British nationals, and that some non-British people are eligible for the scheme.

BN(O) holders – whose status does not confer British citizenship or the right of abode in the UK – are subject to regular immigration controls, and are required to complete a landing card upon arrival in the UK. The passport is a permanent document held by Hongkongers who applied before the city’s handover to China on 1 July 1997. There are more than 3.4 million BN(O) passport holders in the city.

A letter from UK Immigration Minister James Brokenshire to member of parliament Jim Fitzpatrick.
A letter from UK Immigration Minister James Brokenshire to member of parliament Jim Fitzpatrick. Click to view. Photo: HKFP.

In a new Registered Traveller Service (RTS) scheme rolled out by the UK government in April 2015, travellers can pass through UK border controls faster without needing to fill in a landing card if they:

  • are 18 years old or older;
  • have a passport from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand or the US;
  • have a visa or have visited the UK four times or more in the last 24 months.

They can also use UK/EU entry lanes and ePassport gates at selected airports, fast track entry lanes at Heathrow Airport Terminals 3 and 4, and Eurostar terminals at Paris, Brussels and Lille without having to fill in landing cards.

‘Security’ focus

In a letter acquired by HKFP, UK member of parliament Jim Fitzpatrick raised the question of BN(O) passport holders with the UK Immigration Minister James Brokenshire, who confirmed the RTS scheme does not apply to them.

The RTS “is still relatively new… and has a focus on border security,” wrote Brokenshire.

“Whilst BNOs are not currently eligible to apply for RTS, the Government continues to monitor the performance of Registered Traveller and it keeps eligibility criteria under regular review. Additional cohorts may be added in the future where a case can be made.”

The BN(O) passport. A distinctive feature is that it does not have "European Union" on top. P
The BN(O) passport. A distinctive feature is that it does not have “European Union” on top. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Martin Oei, a Hong Kong based political commentator, told HKFP that BN(O) passport holders’ ineligibility may be related to complications surrounding the five different kinds of British nationalities other than “British citizen”. Not all nationals have right of abode or the right to land in the UK.

“It is not absolutely guaranteed that people with other types of British nationalities, such as British Subject and British Protected Person, can enter the UK. They may need a visa or an entry certificate,” said Oei.

“For some other passports, although they have different citizenship codes, their country codes are the same as that of British Citizens. Passports issued to British Citizens, British Nationals (Overseas) and British Overseas Citizens share the country code GBR,” Oei added.

Oei said that passports issued to British Overseas Territories Citizens from different former colonies have various country codes linked to the new countries formed after independence. For instance, passports issued to British Overseas Territories Citizens in Bermuda have a country code of BMU and a citizenship code of GBD.

“Therefore, the UK government must solve this issue in their computer systems to distinguish who can enter the UK, before BN(O) passport holders are allowed to apply for the RTS,” Oei concluded.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.