A Home Return Permit, also referred to as a Home Visit Permit, or China Back Home Pass, is the colloquial name for the national identity document officially known as the Mainland Travel Permit for Hong Kong and Macau Residents issued to Chinese citizens who are residents of Hong Kong and Macau as the entry permit to mainland China. The permit is issued by the Public Security Bureau of Guangdong province through China Travel Service sub-branches in Hong Kong and Macau and allows holders to travel freely to and take up employment in mainland China.
Before the retrocession of Hong Kong and Macau, home return permits were issued to any ethnic Chinese person in those territories.
Prior to 1999, permits were called Home-Visiting Certificate for Compatriots from Hong Kong and Macau and resembled passports. These booklets were considered inconvenient, because they were large and cumbersome to carry around. Furthermore, the booklets were also found to be inefficient because they could only be used at manned checkpoints where a manual stamp could only be made by an immigration official. Thus they are being phased out as residents replace them upon expiration.
In 1999, the permit was changed into its current card and the official name has changed from Home-Visiting Certificate for Compatriots from Hong Kong and Macau to the current name.
The current permit is a wallet-sized card which facilitates entry into China at any manned immigration checkpoint or through self-service electronic gates (currently available only at Hong Kong-Shenzhen
crossings). These gates read the permit cards with an optical reader and use biometric software to match thumb prints and facial scans with those on record.
Most adult permits are valid for 10 years and minors under 18 years old are issued permits for three years. Temporary permits are given for practical reasons, such as when a person's permit has expired and the replacement has not arrived. There have been instances of limited single and double entry home visit permits issued due to political reasons. For instance, controversial individuals such as pro-democracy politicians--often from Hong Kong--are only issued single visit permits.
Nationality of holders
A home return permit constitutes proof of PRC citizenship; however, not all PRC citizens in Hong Kong or Macau have a home return permit. Unlike a compulsory Hong Kong identity card, application for a home return permit is voluntary.
They are still eligible for an HKSAR passport issued by the Immigration Department of the Hong Kong Government, or an MSAR passport by the Macau Government. The SAR passports are only issued to PRC citizens with the Right of Abode in Hong Kong or Macau. The HKSAR passport allows travel to foreign countries and regions. Note that the HKSAR passport may not be used for travel to Macau; and while it is not to be used as a travel document for travel to Taiwan, it is nonetheless used in conjunction with the entry permit issued by the Taiwanese authorities so to prove the identity of the holder. PRC citizens holding an HKSAR passport cannot use the SAR passport to enter the Chinese mainland. The HKSAR Government has once stated that "in line with the one country principle, it was considered inappropriate to adopt HKSAR passport as a travel document to enter the Mainland".
Likewise, the home return permit cannot be used to enter Hong Kong or Macau.
Issues facing British passport holders
Many, but not all, residents of Hong Kong are British National (Overseas)
(BN(O)) and a small number are British Citizens (BC). The PRC Government does not recognise British passports (BN(O) and BC) issued to Hong Kong residents of Chinese nationality. They cannot use their BN(O) or British Citizen passports to enter the Chinese mainland before and after the handover
Issues facing other foreign passport holders
Besides BN(O)s, BCs, and Chinese citizenship, many Hong Kong residents have obtained overseas citizenship in countries such as Australia
or the United States
. Officially speaking, if they have not made a "declaration of change of nationality" at the Immigration Department of Hong Kong
, they are regarded as PRC citizens in the People's Republic of China
. In this case, they are required to use their home-visit permits to enter mainland China instead of their foreign passports. Under the PRC Nationality Law (as applied in Hong Kong and Macau), such nationals are not entitled foreign consular protection even though they entered China (including the mainland) on their foreign passports. However, whether these dual nationals are entitled to foreign consular protection while in China may be a controversial issue. In Taiwan, multiple national citizenships are fully recognised by the authorities there: see Entry Permit of HK and Macau Residents to the Taiwan Area
Reciprocal treatment for mainland China residents
PRC citizens that are residents in the mainland are required to apply for an exit endorsement
to visit Hong Kong and Macau just as they would for other countries.
, Ching Cheong
(程翔), a Hong Kong-based journalist of the Singaporean
newspaper The Straits Times
, was arrested by the mainland national security authorities. He was accused of stealing "state secrets". The correspondent entered the mainland on his home return permit, while he is also a BN(O) passport holder. Since he is both PRC citizen, British National (Overseas), as well as a permanent resident of Singapore, some organisations, like the Hong Kong Journalists' Association
and Reporters without borders
, urged the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
to intervene. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office
said it had no plans to comment on the case. British officials have indicated that if there were any representations to be made, they would take place behind the scenes. A London spokesperson said: "We can offer consular assistance but we cannot interfere in the legal affairs of another country." The PRC central government
never recognised his British National (Overseas) status. The PRC states that its citizens from Hong Kong cannot enjoy United Kingdom consular protection inside the PRC on the basis of their BN(O) or BC passports. The Foreign Secretary
of the United Kingdom stated that "Mr Ching is a British National (Overseas) passport holder and we have pressed the central authorities for information on the circumstances of his arrest and will continue to seek consular access as a matter of urgency, which so far has been denied." There are other cases that the British Government was asked to assist BN(O) passport holders detained inside the Chinese mainland.
Before the handover some pro-democracy Hong Kong politicians, such as Margaret Ng
, Emily Lau
and Christine Loh
attempted to use their British Citizen passports to enter mainland China because they were denied from applying for a Home Return Permit. These were rare occasions since they were considered to be detrimental to China
. Without the permit they are denied from entering mainland China; however, those politicians are still PRC citizens under the Chinese nationality law
; acquisition of PRC citizenship of ethnic Chinese residents in Hong Kong is involuntary, although they may elect to forfeit their Chinese citizenship if they hold a foreign nationality, except the British National (Overseas)
status and the British citizenship obtained in the British Nationality Selection Scheme
- Declaration of change of Nationality, Immigration Department, Hong Kong SAR
- Explanations of some questions by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress concerning the implementation of the Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
- Home return permit application, China Travel Service, Hong Kong (in Chinese BIG5)
- Straw urged to rescue reporter held by Chinese for 'secrets' theft, The Telegraph
- Visas for China, travel advice, British Consulate General Hong Kong
- Entering and Leaving the Mainland, Labour Department, Hong Kong SAR ('Re-entry permit' here is the home visit permit)
- 還我回鄉權 廢除回鄉證
- 大眾遊箱﹕回鄉證毋須半年有效期 往返內地
- Minutes of meeting, Panel of Security, Legislative Council, Hong Kong (31 March 1999)
- Six-Monthly Report to Parliament on Hong Kong (January-June 2005), presented to Parliament by the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom
- Book in Chinese: 張勇、陳玉田：《香港居民的國籍問題》（出版社：三聯書店（香港））