HONG KONG: Thousands of members of ethnic minority communities in Hong Kong - Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese - who only have a British National Overseas BN (O) passport are facing fresh hurdle in going abroad after the government said it no longer recognised the document for travel, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Emily Tsang and Ethan Paul, in an opinion piece in SCMP, wrote that the Hong Kong government's derecognition of the BN (O) documents for travelling have left many ethnic minority group members fraught with uncertainty.
They were taken by surprise when the Immigration Department announced that the BN (O) document could not be used for entering or exiting the city from January 31 and residents would need a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) passport or identity card.
The move came amid a row between China and Britain over London's offer of a path to citizenship for Hong Kong residents eligible for the BN (O) status.
The members of ethnic minority groups rely on their BN(O) passports as their sole travel document, as they say they have long faced difficulties in applying for an HKSAR passport given they are non-Chinese nationals, reported SCMP.
Applicants must give up any prior nationality status, prove they have roots in Hong Kong and are contributing to the local community. But insiders said immigration officers often arbitrarily rejected applications, putting ethnic minority members off from applying at all, reported Emily Tsang and Ethan Paul.
As per the new rules, residents without an HKSAR passport will need to apply for an additional document of identity for visa purposes from the Immigration Department for international travel.
The government said on Friday that the process could take about five days and that "possibly very few" people would be affected, reported SCMP.
A social worker who has been assisting hundreds, if not thousands, in the South Asian community, said they would be left without a legitimate travel document.
"All of the South Asians with only BN(O)s - Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese - that is who will suffer the most," said the social worker, who asked to remain anonymous.
The South Asian community will have to bear the brunt of this new regulation as they are confused about what the new rule meant for them and were anxious to learn what their options were. Some were considering leaving, including a few of his family members who were looking at moving to Britain, wrote Emily Tsang and Ethan Paul.
"This feeling of being stateless has always been there for BN (O) passport holders, but this has been the final straw," said Adeel Malik, 36, was born in Hong Kong with a mixed background of Pakistani and Chinese roots but holds British citizenship.
Moreover a 55-year-old woman, who is a fourth-generation Indian born in the city and holds only a BN (O) passport, said one prospective employer turned her down on Sunday over concerns about her ability to travel to mainland China. She later said that she found it more difficult to find a job since the rule was introduced.
She said the challenge was not just the ambiguity of the new rules, but also the discrimination ethnic minority groups are facing when dealing with immigration authorities.
The analysts Emily Tsang and Ethan Paul also reported on the process of obtaining a city passport: obtaining HKSAR passport is frustrating as the officers were not required to explain why applicants were rejected. "It is also a time-taking process that could take months, as opposed to the usual days for those of Chinese ethnicity - and would also require a pledge of allegiance to the city", they reported.
London unveiled a new visa last July in the wake of Beijing's imposition of the national security law, offering a potential pathway to citizenship to 5.4 million Hongkongers eligible for BN (O) status, reported SCMP.
In retaliation, Beijing announced it would stop recognising the passports as travel and identification documents.