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HKSAR passport holders can join fast track UK border scheme – but BN(O) holders still ineligible

Some people from Hong Kong have been included in a scheme to expedite travellers through the UK border, but the scheme is only available to those who have a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport, and not British National (Overseas) passport holders.

The UK government added new eligible countries to the Registered Traveller Service (RTS) scheme on Monday. Hong Kong travellers will be able to pass through UK border controls more quickly without needing to fill in a landing card and a credibility interview on arrival if they:

  • are 18 years old or older;
  • have a Special Administrative Region passport;
  • have visited the UK four times or more in the last 24 months.

They may also use UK/EU entry lanes and ePassport gates at selected airports, fast track entry lanes at Heathrow Airport Terminals 3 and 4, and Eurostar terminals at Paris, Brussels and Lille without having to fill in landing cards. It costs £70 (HK$775) to apply to use the service for one year.

The HKSAR passport.

The HKSAR passport. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A more accessible place to travel to

The RTS scheme was rolled out in April 2015. At its launch, travellers who held a passport from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand or the US were eligible for the scheme. Currently, it has 40,000 members.

Four more countries were added on Monday.

“I am delighted to announce the expansion of the very successful Registered Traveller service to Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan,” said UK Immigration Minister James Brokenshire.

“The UK welcomes thousands of passengers from these places every year and we believe the Registered Traveller service will only improve the experience at our borders for business travellers, for students and for regular visitors to the UK.”

A spokesperson from the UK’s Home Office told HKFP that the scheme made the UK “a more accessible place to travel to” for RTS members from the selected countries and territories.

“We recognised that there was an opportunity for Border Force to offer a dedicated and more efficient service to frequent travellers from selected countries and territories on which there is no UK visit visa requirement,” the spokesperson said.

Many Hong Kong people have both BN(O) and HKSAR passports.

Many Hong Kong people have both BN(O) and HKSAR passports. Photo: HKGolden.

BN(O) still barred

Previously, Brokenshire confirmed that the RTS scheme did not apply to BN(O) holders.

The BN(O) passport is a permanent document held by Hongkongers who applied for it before the city’s handover to China on 1 July 1997. There are more than 3.4 million BN(O) passport holders in the city.

The RTS “is still relatively new… and has a focus on border security,” wrote Brokenshire in a letter to UK member of parliament Jim Fitzpatrick dated December 23, 2015.

“Whilst BNOs are not currently eligible to apply for RTS, the Government continues to monitor the performance of the Registered Traveller Scheme and it keeps eligibility criteria under regular review. Additional cohorts may be added in the future where a case can be made.”

The UK Home Office spokesperson added that “the majority of BN(O) passport holders are also holders of a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport which would enable them to apply for the Registered Traveller Service if they are in one of the eligible categories.”

e-Channel service.

e-Channel service. Photo: Gov HK.

Not reciprocal

However, there appears to be no mutual and reciprocal agreement between the Hong Kong and UK government, as an announcement from the SAR government has yet to be made. Currently, UK passport holders visiting Hong Kong have to fill in a landing card and are not eligible to use the e-Channel service when they land.

Martin Oei, a Hong Kong based political commentator, told HKFP that it was likely to have been a decision that the UK made on its own.

“The RTS scheme will collect the passport holder’s information as they enter, and the Immigration Department would not be prepared to have information collected by the UK if the collection was not reciprocal,” Oei said.

He added that the UK could collect Hong Kong Identity Card information of frequent travellers embedded in the passports, through RFID readers installed at the lanes and gates, for intelligence purposes.

HKSAR passport holders can join fast track UK border scheme - but BN(O) holders still ineligible