The protests in Hong Kong and the desire of (predominantly) the British National (Overseas) passport holders to leave the country

Hong Kong has been on fire for the most part of 2019 now. We will not go into the reasons for the unrest in the Asian financial hub. Instead, we will analyze the strange phenomenon that unveiled after the riots became violent – the demand for second citizenship.

And what is surprising, the amount of applications we receive from BNO passport holders is about the half the applications we get from people holding HKSAR passports. Bearing in mind that there are about 35 times more HKSAR passports than there are BNO passports, it looks like the BNO nationals are the ones most desperate to secure second citizenship.

Hong Kong riots 2019

The Hong Kongers are desperate for second citizenship

Despite having one of the best passports in the world 1, the people of HK obviously don’t feel comfortable with their travel privileges. Or rather, they don’t feel comfortable with their options as to where they are permitted to reside freely. The Hong Kongers desire now another type of freedom, quite different from the freedom that is being demanded by the protesters on the streets. We feel that the people of Hong Kong are now preparing themselves to leave. Many would argue that they are merely trying to secure themselves additional right of abode, purely as a backup option. That is, residency right in a more peaceful and stable country. We think however that the people of Hong Kong are preparing themselves now to vote with their feet.

1 in terms of number of countries that the HK citizens can visit visa-free

The people of Hong Kong are now preparing themselves to leave…

based on amount of applications for Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment in the second half of 2019

But it is not only the sharp increase of HK applicants for Bulgarian citizenship. What we now see is that the people of HK are trying to also move their assets out of the country. In 2018, almost 100% from our HK clients were using their local Hong Kong banks to make the required investment 2. Now, in the second half of 2019, 92% are demanding to open bank accounts abroad. And what we then see is that it is not only the required investment that goes to these accounts. The people of Hong Kong, at least those who can afford it, are moving all their assets out of HK.

2 The Bulgarian Citizenship by Investment program requires an investment of 1 024 000 EUR in Bulgarian equities (bonds, shares, etc.).

Hong Kongers applying for Bulgarian citizenship

Real estate abroad – the sales to residents of Hong Kong quadrupled in just a few months time

But the money that left HK doesn’t stand still in the foreign banks. What the people of Hong Kong are now actively buying is real estate. From affordable rural houses to ultra expensive mansions, the Hong Kongers are hungry for all of it.

The visa-free travel that the Hong Kongers enjoy is not good enough anymore

The people of Hong Kong have been spoiled so far in terms of visa-free travel options. No matter whether they hold HKSAR or BNO passports, the doors of most countries worldwide are still open for them. And they are still welcome almost everywhere, but only as tourists

Citizens of Hong Kong are still being allowed to travel visa-free to most countries worldwide. As for right of abode, there is a no no for them…

The hypocrisy of the United Kingdom

It is not a secret that the western democracies are now supporting the protests in Hong Kong, at least morally. But the very same western powers, namely the United Kingdom, deprived the Hong Kongers of their basic rights after 1997. The UK accepted the Hong Kongers as British naitonals, but without the right of abode in the UK. We will go into more details below. For now, we would just say that we find that not to be fair towards the people of Hong Kong.

The double-standards of the Mainland Chinese government

At the same time, the Chinese authorities provided to the Hong Kongers the famous now HKSAR passport. The new HK passport allowed visa-free travel to huge number of countries, but in turn had humiliated the Mainland Chinese. It humiliated them (the Mainlanders) by giving them less rights (different type of passports) than the new Hong Kong citizens. Many in Mainland China didn’t find that to be fair. Neither did we.

So in fact, the British humiliated the Hong Kongers by making them second class citizens. At the same time, the Chinese favored them to their own and gave them more rights than the Mainlanders had. And now the protesters say they want the democracy of the west, because they fear the dictatorship of Mainland China?

But let’s see first how “free” the Hong Kongers are with their passports now. Let’s see whether there is something more than just being able to travel the world visa-free. Because visa-free travel is important, but it doesn’t make you feel safe, it doesn’t make you feel at home!

The regular Chinese passport – quite poor in terms of travel privileges

Chinese passport

Compared to the people in Mainland China, who are stuck with their regular Chinese passports, the permanent citizens of HK are quite privileged indeed. The regular Chinese (Mainland) passport, is good for visa-free travel to only 80 countries. This is one of the poorest score and is placing the Chinese passport next to countries like Malawi and Lesotho. Having in mind that the Chinese economy is already challenging that of the USA, the horrible ranking of the Chinese passport doesn’t really seem to be justified.

Chinese passport holders are treated so badly indeed that they are not even allowed to visit freely 3 HK. Regular Chinese passport holder are subject to enormous scrutiny and can obtain Schengen or USA visas extremely difficult.

3 Mainlanders can visit visa-free Hong Kong for up to 7 days, only when travelling transit to a third country

Chinese passport holders, probably because of their sheer number, are in generally treated with reluctance by most foreign institutions. Bank accounts opening is usually a nightmare, especially in the EU countries. Landlords across Europe, the USA, Dubai, etc., are not willing to easily sign rental contracts with Chinese. Of course, the picture changes completely when the Chinese person is able to demonstrate certain living standard (rather spending habits).

Last, but not least, regular Chinese citizens can only legally reside in the territory of Mainland China.

The Hong Kongers – much better off than the regular Chinese citizen when it comes to travel privileges

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Passport

HKSAR passport

Many people outside of Hong Kong don’t have a clue that the permanent residents of HK are indeed, quite privileged. Chinese citizens who also have residency rights in Hong Kong are issued the so called HKSAR passport.

The HKSAR passport is really a powerful travel document. It allows its holders to travel visa-free to 156 countries (almost twice as much as the regular Chinese passport). The HKSAR passport ranks even higher than some Western European countries, such as San Marino and Andorra (both with 153 visa-free countries).

The Hong Kong passport is not even too far below than the mighty Bulgarian passport (EU passport). The Bulgarian citizens can currently travel visa-free to 164 countries, which is merely 11 countries more than the HKSAR citizens. But there is one caveat – Bulgarian citizens have full right of abode in all EU member states. Hongkongers on their part don’t enjoy any similar privileges.

The Chinese authorities have introduced the HKSAR passport in 1997, immediately after they took over HK from the UK. What they have made in fact is they have discriminated their native population and have favored the “new citizens”. The Chinese authorities have segregated the Mainland citizens from the Hongkongers by providing them with different passports. Is this fair? We will leave it up to you to decide.

One may argue that it is not the Chinese authorities who did the “division”. Because indeed, the EU member states are the ones who have granted different visa conditions to HKSAR passport holders. It is our belief however that a country (even with two systems) should treat all of its citizens – equally!

The people of Hong Kong should know best that equal treatment means a lot. Because they should never forget how the British invented (for them) the controversial BNO citizenship…

The controversy of the British National (Overseas) passport

British National Overseas (BNO) passport

At the same time in 1997, when the first HKSAR passport was issued, the United Kingdom solved its “HK problem”.

What the British did is in fact they created a second class citizens. Many of the people, living in HK prior to its handover to China, felt themselves as being part of Britain. So they were expecting to become British citizens after the handover in 1997. And they eventually did. But what they got was not what they really expected.

The bureaucrats in the UK had other ideas of how to handle the HK citizens’ expectations. So they have invented the controversial British National (Overseas) passport. For the first 10 years after the handover, the UK authorities issued as mush as 800 000 BNO passports.

The BNO passport was like a 3-legged horse. It is a British passport, with the same look and feel as the real one, but it lacks basic rights. Many started naming the BNO passport – “the fake UK passport”. The BNO passport doesn’t grant any right of abode in the UK. It is not even considered to be an EU passport. BNO citizens may not pass through the EU gates in Europe (and even in the UK). The Hongkongers are subject to humiliating border checks and have no right to live anywhere in Europe/UK. They are second class citizens, holding a passport that is giving them nothing, but the “pride” of being British.

On top of all that, the BNO passport came with a high price tag attached. Not that it matters much, but the issuance fee for the BNO passport was much higher than the fee for the HKSAR passport.

The decline of the BNO passport’s popularity

Not surprisingly, the BNO passport popularity declined enormously in the years after the Hong Kong handover. In 2016, there were less than 140 000 BNO passports issued, a sharp decline from the peak of 800 000.

The way ahead for Hong Kong

No matter how the protests in Hong Kong will transform the political and social climate in the country, things will never be the same again. There will be more people from Hong Kong buying real estate abroad. There will be more Hong Kongers applying for EU citizenship. And there will be more tension between East and West, with Hong Kong right in the middle.

Bulgarian passport vs HKSAR

For all your questions about how to obtain Bulgarian citizenship and secure your right of abode in the EU, please contact us at once. We will also provide you with unique real estate offers, as well as legal support and assistance.

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