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South China Morning Post
UK set to make HK minorities citizens
1,000 BN(O) holders to get British abode
Mar 31, 2009
Hundreds of stateless members of Hong Kong's ethnic minorities are set to gain full British citizenship, when peers in the UK decide tomorrow to relax an immigration rule which has stranded them in Hong Kong since the handover.
The amendments to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill will benefit mainly people of Nepali and South Asian origin, estimated to number about 1,000.
But the altered law will still bar Hong Kong Chinese holding British National (Overseas) passports from applying for full citizenship.
The two amendments, originally proposed by Lord Avebury, of the opposition Liberal Democrats, were adopted by the government and are now sponsored by the Labour Party's Home Office spokesman, Lord West of Spithead. They will open the door to people who were left stateless when, for various reasons, they failed to apply for full British citizenship before the handover.
Speaking from London, Lord Avebury, who has long campaigned for resolving what he called unfinished business left open by London before 1997, welcomed the British government's latest position.
"I am very happy indeed. In 1997, the government promised nobody would be stateless as a result of the handover. This is a fulfilment of the promise they made. We are just insisting they fulfil all their promises."
Lord Avebury estimated the number of people affected was about 1,000.
The expected change to the law would end one of what London has admitted is a series of "anomalies" in its immigration policies. Before the handover, about 8,000 British Dependent Territories Citizens (BDTC) - mostly former Gurkhas in the British forces and their descendants - were granted British citizenship. But some who applied, including those who did not fulfil the requirement of being ordinarily resident in Hong Kong on or before February 4, 1997, because they were abroad at the time either studying or as minors travelling with their parents, were denied citizenship.
They were given BN(O) passports - which carry no right of abode in Britain - after the BDTC passport expired at the handover. They include Nepalis who had renounced their nationality before seeking British citizenship, as Nepal did not recognise dual nationality. Being non-Chinese and unable to receive Chinese nationality they were considered "stateless" by the British, and some were only allowed to stay in Hong Kong at the government's discretion.
Lord Avebury expected the earliest date those concerned could apply for British citizenship would be in the summer, after the expected passage of the bill in the House of Lords, and expected endorsement in the House of Commons by the Labour majority.
He said it would rectify the problems left over by a 2002 law, which granted citizenship to British overseas citizens, British subjects and British protected persons but not to BN(O) holders. In Hong Kong, a spokesman for the British consulate said the move was intended to address "various anomalies" relating to the awarding of British citizenship. If passed, it would only cover a limited number of stateless people and would not confer British citizenship to anyone already eligible for nationality of another state.
Law Yuk-kai, director of Human Rights Monitor, said Britain "has a moral obligation to correct its mistakes, and should not leave behind its former subjects because of technical reasons". Ganesh Kumar Ijam, spokesman for the Hong Kong Nepalese Federation, said: "This would definitely be one more option for Nepalese to live and work in the UK. Whether they will go would depend on their individual judgments."
The Immigration Department said about 4,800 foreigners had applied for Hong Kong SAR passports in the past three years. Foreigners can renounce their nationality and apply to be naturalised as Chinese citizens.
Thousands may qualify under UK abode plan
Apr 01, 2009
The number of stateless people belonging to ethnic minority groups in Hong Kong, who may become British citizens as a result of an imminent change in an immigration law, may reach into the thousands, the British government says.
This latest estimate by the British Home Office is higher than the original estimate by the politician pushing for changes to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill, which will be put to a vote today in the House of Lords.
Members of the Nepali community in Hong Kong welcomed the Labour government's adoption of the two amendments moved by Lord Avebury, of the Liberal Democrats.
They urged officials to state clearly who would be eligible if the bill was passed.
The South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) yesterday cited Lord Avebury's estimate of about 1,000 predominantly Nepali people who could benefit from the move. A spokesman for the British consulate said the number would not be too high.
"In practice, only a limited number of people will be eligible under these proposals," he said. "The Home Office believes that the numbers are in the thousands, not tens of thousands. Detailed eligibility criteria will be published after the law is passed."
If the amendments are passed - which is also likely to ensure support in the House of Commons because of the Labour majority, it would end one of what Britain has admitted is a series of "anomalies" in its immigration policies. Before the handover, about 8,000 British Dependent Territories Citizens (BDTC) - mostly former Gurkhas in the British forces and their descendants - were granted British citizenship.
But some who applied, including those who did not fulfil the requirement of being ordinarily resident in Hong Kong on or before February 4, 1997, were denied citizenship.
They were given British National (Overseas) passports - which carry no right of abode in Britain - after the BDTC passport expired at the handover. They included Nepalis who had renounced their nationality before seeking British citizenship. Being non-Chinese and unable to receive Chinese nationality, they were considered "stateless" by the British, with some allowed to stay in Hong Kong only at the government's discretion.
Ekraj Rai, chairman of the Hong Kong Minority Communities Association, called on the British government to clarify what he described as a very complex system of immigration regulations that had seen multiple amendments in past years.
Fermi Wong Wai-fun, director of Unison Hong Kong for Ethnic Equality and who works with Nepali groups, said the British government had a moral duty to cater for the rights of those who had previously served it in the colonies.
"The British should clarify who would be eligible as soon as possible," she said.
Lords back citizenship for BN(O) holders
Apr 02, 2009
Peers in the House of Lords last night endorsed a long-desired change to British immigration law, which would open doors to Britain for thousands of Nepali and South Asian people currently living in Hong Kong.
The amendment to the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill sought to give full British citizenship to a group of British National (Overseas) passports holders who do not have citizenship in any country.
Speaking in the debate, Lord Avebury, of the opposition Liberal Democrats, said he was grateful to the Labour government for adopting his amendment, which would solve the long-standing problem in the immigration system that left some of its former colonial subjects stateless.
"When transferring Hong Kong to the Chinese, the government did promise to leave nobody stateless. But in the end it did leave people stateless. This amendment now rectifies this anomaly," he said.
Lord Brett, speaking on behalf of Lord West of Spithead, the Labour government's Home Office spokesman who co-sponsored the amendment, said the amendment would "provide a new route" for BN(O) holders in Hong Kong who are stateless to become British citizens.
"I would confirm that was a relatively small number," he said, saying the figure to benefit would amount up to "thousands".
Last night the lords continued to debate and vote on the remaining clauses of the bill. Lord Avebury's other amendment which dealt with the transfer of citizenship by descent was withdrawn.
Lord Avebury expected the bill to be quickly passed by the Labour majority when it reaches the House of Commons. He said the application for citizenship could begin in the summer.
About 8,000 British Dependent Territories Citizens - mostly former Gurkhas in the British forces and their descendants - were granted British citizenship before the handover in 1997. But some, including those who did not fulfil the requirement of being ordinarily resident in Hong Kong on or before February 4, 1997, were denied citizenship.