Hong Kong’s pensions fund authority has demanded that American newspaper The Wall Street Journal retract “misinformation” in an op-ed about holders of British National Overseas (BNO) passports’ access to their pensions.

The op-ed, titled “Hong Kong’s Hostage Pensions,” was published by the paper’s editorial board last Friday. It discussed a Mandatory Provident Fund policy that denies pension payouts to emigrants using BNO passports as evidence of early withdrawal of funds.

Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority. Photo: Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority, via Facebook.

Anyone who permanently leaves the city is normally entitled to make a one-off withdrawal of the MPF payments they have amassed.

However, in March 2021, the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority (MPFA) declared that, since the Hong Kong government no longer recognised BNO passports, MPF clients “cannot rely” upon them or the associated visa as evidence to support applications for early withdrawal of their pensions. 

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote that the policy “intended to coerce residents to stay in the city and retaliate against anyone who leaves with a BNO passport by confiscating their property.”

“Hong Kong is essentially holding pension assets hostage and confiscating them without due process,” the op-ed read.

In a statement published on Monday, the MPFA said it condemned “the false allegations made in the report about confiscating scheme members’ MPF assets.”

“Such baseless claims are not only misleading, but undermining the credibility of the MPF System. The MPFA demands that the Wall Street Journal retracts the misinformation and provides an accurate report based on facts,” the statement read.

MPFA also reiterated that BNO passports were not recognised as valid travel or identity documents in Hong Kong. Those hoping to withdraw their pensions fund early because of permanent departure had to abide by the law, the MPFA added.

BNO passport
File photo: Jimmy Lam/United Social Press.

An MPFA spokesperson said in the statement that the British government had violated its pledge not to confer the right of abode in the UK on BNO passport holders, and that the UK had “substantively changed” the nature of those passports.

BNO passports were issued to Hongkongers born before the city’s Handover to China as a compromise between Beijing and Britain. They did not previously confer any right to settle permanently in the UK.

Following the implementation of the sweeping national security law, the UK launched a scheme in 2021 that allowed BNO passport holders to gain permanent residency in Britain after five years. Some 144,500 people have left Hong Kong for the UK in the two years since the scheme was launched.

The new visa route was expanded last year to children of BNO passport holders born after July 1, 1997.

The scheme was slammed by Beijing and then-chief executive Carrie Lam, who said that the UK had deviated from the “consensus on how to handle BNO passports.”

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.