China will stop recognizing British National Overseas passports for people from Hong Kong as valid documents starting on Sunday, when the U.K. will launch a new scheme allowing holders of the document to apply for citizenship.
“From Sunday onwards, China will cease to recognize British National Overseas as a travel document and a form of identification, and reserve the right to take further measures,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a press conference on Friday.
British National Overseas passports were issued to Hong Kongers in the runup to the city’s 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule. Until Sunday, Britain only recognized it as a travel document with third-country consular protection but not a path to citizenship.
The change could mean that Hong Kongers will not be allowed to use British National Overseas Passports to board planes as airlines may be forced to accept only their Chinese Hong Kong passports, a British diplomat based in Hong Kong said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The British government announced the change last year in the wake of China’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong, saying that Beijing violated promises under the Sino-British Joint Declaration on freedom and rights.
“The U.K. is attempting to turn a large number of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens, which is a drastic change from the nature of BN(O) as understood originally between China and the U.K., and a serious violation of China’s sovereignty,” Zhao said.
The British consulate-general in the former colony did not respond to a request for comment.
Hong Kongers with British national overseas status and their eligible family members will be able to come to the U.K. to live, study and work. After five years they will be able to apply to settle in the country and will be eligible to apply for British citizenship after one more year.
The Home Office forecasts that between 123,000 and 153,700 eligible Hong Kongers and their dependents will take up the new visa in its first year, with between 258,000 and 322,400 forecast to arrive over five years.