Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Ivan Chan, who moved to the UK with his wife and two children in 2021, knew he would be left with around $90,000 in retirement funds to escape China’s crackdown on Hong Kong.
Under the rules of Hong Kong’s compulsory pension scheme, Mr Chan, 40, is usually entitled to early withdrawal of his savings as a permanent resident of Hong Kong.
Instead, Chan was barred from his pension after authorities in the former British colonies refused to accept the British National (Overseas) Passport (BNO) he used to immigrate as a valid form of identification.
Chan, a former civil servant who now works in a supermarket in London, told Al Jazeera, “If we can’t get that money, it will be difficult for us to plan our finances.”
“Of course, our retirement lives will change.”
“They don’t like people moving out of Hong Kong and will do anything to punish them,” Chan said.
Chan’s case is nothing special.
Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based activist group, estimated last month that Hong Kongers in the UK have been denied access to more than $2.8 billion in pension savings.
More than 144,000 Hong Kongers have emigrated to the UK since the UK began offering work and residence rights to BNO passport holders in response to Beijing imposing sweeping national security laws on Hong Kong in 2020. .
Once separate from mainland China, Hong Kong’s rights and liberties have fallen dramatically under the law in an extradition from British rule.
By arresting or disqualifying most of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy legislators, shutting down critical media, and nearly outlawing criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the Hong Kong authorities have forced all political opponents to has been effectively wiped out. Officials in Beijing and Hong Kong have welcomed the bill to restore peace and stability to Asia’s financial hubs.
After Britain announced its visa plan, China said it would no longer recognize BNO passports and accused London of interfering in its internal affairs.
Since the Beijing announcement, Hong Kong’s Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) authority, which regulates pension schemes, has instructed banks that manage contributor savings to not accept the use of BNO passports for early withdrawal applications.
While authorities deny the changes to pension rules are politically motivated, there is no doubt that Hong Kongers affected are being punished for defying the Chinese Communist Party.
A 47-year-old Hong Kong immigrant who fled Hong Kong in 2021 told Al Jazeera on condition of anonymity: “I think it’s a kind of punishment. They treat people born in Hong Kong as slaves.”
He said he was denied access to about $100,000 in retirement savings.
“It made my transition more difficult. Of course it’s an extra burden for me,” he said.
Under current rules, Hong Kongers who currently do not have access to pensions should be able to do so once they reach retirement age or obtain a new passport through British citizenship.
However, some Hong Kong citizens fear that the Chinese government will simply change the rules so they can’t legitimately get their own.
“We have no hope of receiving it from the Hong Kong government or the Chinese government,” said a Hong Kong immigrant who requested anonymity.
“Literally it’s gone,” he said.
The situation has also prompted scrutiny of the role of banks managing Hong Kongers’ pensions, including London-based HSBC.
Sam Goodman, director of policy and advocacy at Hong Kong Watch, said HSBC was complicit in Beijing’s “brazen asset expropriation” aimed at warning Hong Kong citizens of eviction.
“HSBC has not fulfilled its fiduciary responsibilities to the Mandatory Provident Fund,” Goodman told Al Jazeera.
“Having to explain to customers why they are blocking access to their hard-earned savings, the UK government has made it clear that a London-based bank has failed to recognize valid government-issued documents and has authorized them to do so. I have to ask why you are doing a bidding for a sovereign government.”
An HSBC spokesperson said the bank is obligated to comply with laws and regulatory directives in all jurisdictions in which it operates.
“For permanent departures, scheme members will be required to provide proof of non-Hong Kong residency,” the spokesperson said. “Regulators have publicly confirmed that BN(O) passports cannot be used as such evidence.”
A spokeswoman for Manulife, which also manages the MPF fund, said the bank follows industry practices and regulatory requirements.
Other banks managing MPF funds, including Standard Chartered, China Life and ING, did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the Mandatory Provident Fund Authority has rejected suggestions that Hong Kongers are being punished for moving to the UK.
“Members of the MPF scheme who have emigrated abroad are not barred from withdrawing their MPF as long as the withdrawal criteria are met, and strongly underscore the false allegation that Hong Kong people are being punished for emigration. We condemn it,” a spokesperson told Al Jazeera.
“like that [a] Unsubstantiated claims are not only misleading, they also undermine the credibility of the MPF system. “
To a Hong Konger like Chan, such explanations sound hollow.
Chan, who said the biggest factor in her decision to move was her children’s education, plans to apply for a withdrawal of her pension once she obtains British citizenship, but she is not optimistic whether she will receive the money.
“Money is ours,” he said. “Let’s manage our money freely.”