British National (Overseas) passport holders should “reach out to their own countries” if they encounter any troubles while overseas, Hong Kong Secretary for Security Chris Tang has said.
The security chief’s comments came after Legislative Councillor Johnny Ng asked if the city’s Immigration Department would help Hongkongers holding BNO passports if they reached out to the department while abroad.
Tang said that the Hong Kong government did not recognise the passport as a valid travel or identification document, and that consulates overseas mainly helped Chinese nationals of Hong Kong.
“Of course, if [that person] holds a BNO passport, and the matter requires embassy or consulate help, such as if they are arrested, then they might have to reach out to their own countries,” Tang said in a Legislative Council Panel on Security meeting on Tuesday.
The security chief added that the government would extend help to non-permanent residents of the city who held Hong Kong identity cards, such as foreign domestic workers, if they reached out to the administration for help while overseas.
BNO passports were issued to Hongkongers born before the Handover as a compromise between Beijing and London, but did not originally confer any right to settle permanently in Britain.
However, the passports sparked debate between the Chinese and British governments after the UK launched a scheme allowing BNO passport holders to settle in the UK, as a response to the enactment of the Beijing-imposed national security law.
The scheme, launched last year, allows holders of BNO passports and their dependants to apply for permanent settlement following a five-year stay in Britain, and for citizenship after the sixth year.
At the time, Hong Kong’s then-chief executive Carrie Lam said that the UK had deviated from the “consensus on how to handle BNO passports.”
“If someone has now unilaterally deviated from the consensus, it would be a matter of course for the other party to take some action,” Lam said at the time.
The settlement scheme was expanded in October to include Hong Kong people born after 1997, who have at least one parent who is a BNO passport holder.
The expansion also attracted criticism from Chinese officials, with a spokesperson for the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong saying in October that the UK was attempting to transfer its internal conflicts, stirring up political issues to reap economic benefits.