BNO holders resettling in UK barred from taking MPF retirement savings

2020.09.28
BNO passport is seeen during Apple Daily interview with a couple about renewal of BNO passport
BNO passport is seeen during Apple Daily interview with a couple 陳氏夫婦 (化名) about renewal of BNO passport. 新一輪移民潮已悄悄開始,手握「逃生門」,如何抉擇?本報記者攝

Hongkongers planning to relocate to the United Kingdom with their British National (Overseas) passports this year will not be allowed to withdraw their Mandatory Provident Fund savings even if they plan to leave the city permanently.

By contrast, those who are relocating to mainland China under Return Home Permits will not have any trouble taking their retirement funds with them, an Apple Daily investigation has found.

The MPF, a compulsory government retirement plan, normally prevents withdrawals until the account holder reaches the retirement age of 65. However, those who plan to leave Hong Kong permanently can withdraw their contributions early.

But the exception to early withdrawals is BN(O) holders planning to settle in the U.K. this year, Apple Daily has found. Customer service officers at several MPF trustee companies – including Manulife, HSBC, AIA and BOCI-Prudential Trustees – said the BN(O) is considered only a travel document rather than proof of residency outside of Hong Kong.

A customer service officer at the Mandatory Provident Schemes Authority gave the same explanation to Apple Daily’s enquiry.

The BN(O) is a passport given to Hongkongers born before the city was handed over from Britain to China on July 1, 1997. Britain has announced that BN(O) holders will be allowed to apply for British citizenship after living in the U.K. for five years under a special residency visa – plus one additional year of residency. That new arrangement is expected to be officially implemented in January 2021.

Under the recently relaxed Leave Outside the Rules arrangement, BN(O) holders might be able to settle in the U.K. earlier than January 2021. According to the four MPF trustees interviewed by Apple Daily, the current arrangements for early withdrawal might change in January 2021.

A Hongkonger surnamed Chan told Apple Daily that his application for an early MPF withdrawal was rejected by the Bank of East Asia, even though he had a BN(O) and had submitted all relevant documents including a declaration from the Home Affairs Department. Chan had declared his intent to visit his wife and son in the United States before relocating to the U.K., but the Bank of East Asia did not accept that as a permanent relocation.

But Chan was able to make an early MPF withdrawal by using his Return Home Permit, a special multiple-entry card that enables Hongkongers to live in mainland China, as Chan has.

According to the MPF authority, a total of HK$1.3 billion (US$167.7 million) from 7,600 applications was withdrawn from the MPF pool in the first quarter of this year. The authority received a total of 30,300 applications in 2019, taking HK$4.85 billion from Hong Kong’s MPF pool.

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