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Please wait at home for 4-6 weeks

The SCMP may have been late on to this story, but they do seem to be running with it, albeit with a somewhat sensationalist headline.  

Britons may be fined, held under new passport rules

Citizens on mainland face penalties if stopped while their documents are in HK for renewal

Keith Wallis
Dec 22, 2011

Britons and other foreign nationals living on the mainland are legally required to keep their passports with them. But under new British rules, citizens needing to renew their travel documents must send them to the regional passport processing centre in Hong Kong.  If they comply with those rules, Britons risk being fined or detained by mainland authorities, diplomats said, although the potential penalties are vague.

Jo McPhail, head of the overseas passport management unit at Britain's Foreign Office, said China and South Korea were among eight or nine countries where it was a legal requirement for people to have their passports available for inspection. She said these restrictions were recognised by passport processing centres, which would accept a complete photocopy of the passport being renewed rather than the original document. McPhail said that although a photocopied passport renewal was allowed, officials wanted to keep the number being processed to a minimum.

Britons sending a photocopied passport may also have to wait up to six weeks for a new passport to be couriered from Britain rather than the maximum processing time of four weeks when the original document is submitted for renewal.

This makes no sense at all.  Why should it take longer to process?  What is different? 

The Foreign Office changed procedures earlier this year so that Britons in Asia must apply to the Hong Kong regional passport production centre for new passports.  British citizens making passport renewal applications in jurisdictions including Hong Kong have to surrender their passports, which are automatically retained, marooning them until the new passport is delivered. One option for frequent travellers, including those travelling between Hong Kong and the mainland on a regular basis, is to apply for a second passport, although applications are only considered for business reasons and on a case-by-case basis, British officials say.

When I complained about the impact of these new rules (months before the SCMP stumbled upon the story) I was told that one possible solution was to apply for a second passport.  As it wasn’t me having the problem I didn’t follow up, but it is a decidedly odd solution when it would simpler and cheaper to just let people keep their old passport for a few weeks whilst the application is processed.  If the objective of these changes is to improve security then how does it help if some people have two passports?

Paula Corrans, manager of the Asia passport production centre at the British consulate in Hong Kong, said: "For all applications, other than for second passports, the old passport is automatically cancelled by the system part-way through the processing. We cannot guarantee when this will be, as processing times differ depending on the complexity of the application and during peak and quiet periods."

Changes in the way passport applications are made and processed were introduced in August for cost and security reasons, albeit with little publicity.

Does the SCMP think that if they keep repeating this August date people will believe it’s true?  It’s not.

They also prevent Britons from travelling, except for urgent trips when an emergency travel document can be issued.  Other countries - including France, the United States and Canada - continue to allow their nationals to travel on an existing passport after an application for a replacement has been made.

A spokesman for the US consulate said that, except for applications for emergency passports, "All applications are processed locally, the data is transferred electronically to the US and the passport hard book is manufactured there."  He said new passports, which are issued in five to 10 working days, are also issued locally.

"The old passport must be presented for cancellation before the new passport can be given to the applicant. At this point, the cancelled passport booklet no longer serves as a valid travel document but does retain value as proof of identity and US citizenship," he said.

Passport Canada spokeswoman Beatrice Fenelon said that while applications are made locally, passports are issued in Canada. But citizens applying outside Canada can retain their passport until the new one is issued or collected from the local consulate or embassy, whereupon the old document is cancelled.

A spokeswoman at the French consulate said new passport applications are made locally and citizens can continue to use their existing passport until they collect their new one.

So every other country allows people to retain their old passport, but Britain thinks it’s OK to take them away, and only offer expensive “solutions” in exceptional cases.  Who on earth thought that was a good idea?

Pierce Lam (again)

I know I’m very late on this, and in fact I can no longer find this letter on the splendid SCMP website so I have resorted to copying it from Spike’s blog (Breaking News: Pierce Lam Still Hates White People)

The American Chamber of Commerce claims that Hong Kong’s status as a “world class” city depends on its meeting the demand from expatriates for international school places (“AmCham warns of schools ‘crisis’”, December 5).

This assertion is misleading, tendentious and absurd. It misleads with the weasel words “world class”, which refer to various qualities of questionable desirability.  If international school places were a measure of a city’s world-class status, Hong Kong is undoubtedly No1 among world-class cities.

There are much more public resources for a much greater variety of foreign schools with a much larger number of international school places in Hong Kong than the combined offers of New York City and Geneva, where the United Nations’ headquarters are located. But New York and Geneva are world-class cities in their own right, with local institutions that command foreigners’ respect.

In Hong Kong, our universities are world-class, and our pre-college pupils are famous for their outstanding performance in international scholastic assessments. But the city’s expatriates shun local education for their children and show no respect for local institutions.

As has been pointed out many times, it’s actually the case that local schools shun expatriates.  Even if parents would like their children to attend local schools they find that they are not welcome.  There is no incentive for local schools to welcome families who don’t speak Chinese and they find it much easier to deal with local families. 

They have no qualms making what is absurd sound serious, alleging that the city’s international standing depends on their presence so it had better invest more public resources to satisfy their children’s need for privileged education in effectively segregated “international” schools.

Again, this is nonsense.  Local schools are far more segregated than ESF schools, several of which have large majorities of local Cantonese-speaking students.  Other international schools are also very popular with local parents, who feel that they offer a better education than local schools. 

Ironically, the demand of this community of privileged minorities for unfair advantages is blindly and forcefully promoted by the city’s self-styled democrats, who supposedly should represent the majority’s interest and fight for equality.

As Alex Lo observes, there is neither economic nor moral justification for granting public resources to expat children’s international schools (“No place for apartheid in our schools”, December 3). That’s why the city’s foreign residents have to resort to the silly idea of world-class status, which they claim is what Hong Kong should pursue.

Expatriates who have come for economic reasons should thank the city for the opportunities available here and learn to engage in fair competition with the indigenous majority. They must learn to respect local institutions and not to expect the unrealistic privileges of the bygone colonial era.

Pierce Lam, Central

The last paragraph strikes me as the most absurd.  Not all expats are here “for economic reasons”, and all that the American Chamber of Commerce is asking  is for the government to allocate land for international schools – which will then (almost certainly) be overwhelmed with applications from local parents. 

Alex Lo was arguing that the government should focus its efforts on local schools to make them a more attractive option both for local parents (who currently choose ESF & International schools) and non-Chinese speakers.  But Pierce Lam is reluctant to admit that there is anything wrong with local schools, and therefore tries to argue that it’s those pesky foreigners who are being difficult.

British passports - slower and less convenient

Having finally caught up with the story about changes to the way British passports are being issued, the SCMP are not letting go.

Local jobs to go as Britain closes passport operation

Keith Wallis
Dec 07, 2011

Up to 24 staff working at the British consulate in Hong Kong will be made redundant when all passport operations move back to Britain in a revamp of how passports are handled.  They are among 166 people working in the seven regional passport processing centres around the world, who are likely to lose their jobs when the centres close.

No date for the redundancies has been announced, but Britain's Identity & Passport Service is aiming to have all applications handled in Britain by 2014.

Jo McPhail, head of the overseas passport management unit at Britain's Foreign Office, said: "The centres will close and most will lose their jobs. Almost all are locally employed staff." During a visit to Hong Kong last week, she said people were fully aware they would face the sack. "We have been honest with them," McPhail said, adding people would be "treated fairly" and helped with future employment.

Those affected are involved in checking and verifying applications for new and replacement passports and sending documents to Britain.

Since August, new British passports have been issued in Britain and sent to Hong Kong by courier, although applications can still be made in person at the consulate. Because passports are cancelled as soon as the new application is made, and new passports can take up to four weeks to arrive, the change - highlighted by the Sunday Morning Post - is leaving British citizens marooned in Hong Kong.

Well, yes, but this change was introduced early last year.  The dozy journalists appear to have become aware of the story by reading a letter in their own paper last Monday:

Renewing UK passport a costly chore

Beware the new and improved efficient passport renewal process at the British consulate.

Expect to spend about two hours waiting to be told that your photographs are rejected (two teeth showing in my case), renewal will take four weeks (it used to be one week), and the cost, at GBP200 (HK$2,420), is more than double the previous price.

The good news is that if you have to travel during the processing period, you can obtain an emergency travel document valid for one trip only and costing GBP100 each time. Of course, you are again required to queue up for this privilege and not earlier than one day before you need to travel.

This system is inefficient and not user-friendly.

Bryan Carter, Pok Fu Lam

On Sunday came this:

Danger of hold-ups on British passports

Thousands may be left in limbo after rule changes on renewals mean applicants are waiting up to four weeks, prompting calls for 'express service' in HK

Keith Wallis
Dec 04, 2011

Thousands of British passport holders in Hong Kong and on the mainland face being marooned because of little-known changes in renewal procedures.  Regulations introduced last August mean that the applications are dealt with in Hong Kong but the passports are issued from Britain.

Little known?  Maybe to SCMP newshounds.  And some of the change came in long before August.

Previous passports are cancelled as soon as the person applies for renewal, and the new passports are taking up to four weeks to arrive.

That means business people across Asia can be stranded and unable to travel while they wait.

One Hong Kong businessman was forced to spend HK$15,000 travelling to London to renew his passport or risk losing key deals in China and India because the Hong Kong processing centre could not guarantee the new passport would arrive before he travelled.

The regulations are also severely affecting British passport holders who commute between Hong Kong and the mainland on an almost daily basis. They have to renew their 10-year passports as often as every 10 months because they are full.

Officials in London say the move was prompted by security concerns and the need to save money.

Maybe more of the latter than the former.