The British never offered full British citizenship rights to Hong Kong as part of the handover in 1997."
I remember my first visit to Hong Kong. A year into my new policy career I was greeted by my university colleague at the arrivals hall at the international terminal. Back then we thought nothing of taking the bus to take us from the airport to where he lived. It was a student apartment that he was able to get for me - $100 for the week. From that apartment at a dizzying height up in the hills, I called my partner back home, with what seemed to be a distant view of a bay dotted with tankers underneath greyish skies.
In 2008, it was just over a decade since the handover. I was scarcely aware then of the politics, and back then as a foreigner, I detected little chagrin over the mainland’s omnipresence. Ten years later, I returned to a different Hong Kong. Skyscrapers and buildings throughout the city had been renamed with brands found once only in mainland China. The exhilarating thrill of getting around Causeway Bay in the evenings, browsing through Flower Market and Bird Market and window shopping and culture were mixed with a semi-awareness of China's psychological hold over Hong Kong.
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. On 9 June 2019, an estimated 1 million marched to show they were against the proposed extradition bill. Joseph Chan
Fighting for Hong Kong
The overwhelming desire of those who call Hong Kong home is their ability to maintain their political freedoms inherited under British rule. In 1984, in The Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong, the Chinese government promised a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong under the one country, two systems principle. The controversial extradition bill has inflamed a Hong Kong deeply suspicious of China. As anti-government protests continued The South China Morning Post reported that a growing number of Hongkongers are thinking or planning to leave Hong Kong. In a 2019 study, one-quarter of respondents nominated too much political dispute as one reason behind their desire to emigrate.
But Hong Kong’s recent history shows that emigration is nothing new. The first wave took place after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, with a second wave taking place as Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 after nearly a century of British control. 2019 could herald another wave of migration.
International response to the crisis in Hong Kong
Over several years there has been growing international concern that freedoms in Hong Kong are deteriorating. In 2017, twenty years following the 1997 handover, China claimed that the joint declaration was ‘a historical document that no longer had any practical significance’. (The British Government retorted that the agreement is still a legally binding treaty, recognised by the United Nations and monitored by the British.)
The tensions have sparked protests, and the increasingly violent actions by the Hong Kong Police Force against protestors have been condemned by Amnesty International. In response protestors began wearing face masks, protestors forced the closure of Hong Kong’s MTR subway lines, forced an airport shutdown, and stood off with police at Hong Kong's Polytechnic University.
The wider international community have also been outspoken on other matters. In March 2019, eleven international parliamentarians from Europe, North America and Asia called for reform of Hong Kong’s Public Order Ordinance following a retrial verdict of Edward Leung, a member of pro-independence group Hong Kong Indigenous. Ray Wong Toi-yeung and Alan Li, also members, fled Hong Kong and were granted refugee status in Germany fearing political persecution. It didn't stop there. The British Government castigated the Chinese Secret police for torturing Simon Cheng, a former staff member at the British Consulate in Hong Kong.
In November 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S Senate passed two versions of The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act safeguarding principles of universal suffrage, requiring an annual review of Hong Kong’s special trade status. Exports to Hong Kong of crowd-control equipment such as teargas could be banned in another bill, the Protect Hong Kong Act.
On 4 September 2019 Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam announced the withdrawal of the extradition bill which had started the protests. Joseph Chan
Can I still get a British Overseas Passport if I’m from Hong Kong?
So if you're from Hong Kong, what are your options?
The British Government states that someone who was a British overseas territories citizen by connection with Hong Kong was able to register as a British national (overseas) before 1 July 1997. If your British Overseas Passport is expired it can still be renewed. Only ‘old Hong Kongers’ born before 1 July 1997 are eligible to apply.
What are my rights as a British overseas territories citizen?
Some of the rights conferred on British overseas territories citizens are the ability to hold a British passport and receive consular assistance and protection from UK diplomatic posts.
However, British overseas territories citizens are subject to immigration controls and do not have the automatic right to live or work in the UK (and would require a visa). British overseas territories citizens are also not considered a UK national by the European Union (EU).
Can I pass on my British overseas territories citizenship?
No. You cannot pass on this citizenship status to your descendants, or pass it on via marriage.
Can I get full British citizenship?
The British never offered full British citizenship rights to Hong Kong as part of the handover in 1997. A 2007 inquiry found that giving BN(O)s full British citizenship would be a breach of the 1984 Joint Declaration. There’s been a wave of public support to change the status quo: the Chair of the UK’s Foreign Affairs Committee argues eligible Hong Kongers should be confirmed as British citizens while the UK’s Liberal Democrats are making it a political promise. 101,954 people signed an e-petition that was considered by the UK Parliament to grant full citizenship to the people of Hong Kong.
In response to that petition, the UK parliament outlined three ways BN(O)s could obtain full British citizenship: