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Hongkongers in UK and Canada Denied Access to Billions of Savings

Darren Maung
Darren is an aspiring writer who wishes to share or create stories to the world and bring humanity together as one. A massive Star Wars nerd and history buff, he finds enjoyable, heart-warming or interesting subjects in any written media.
Published: June 19, 2024
The letters “MPF” lighting up the Hong Kong Bank on Nov. 28, 2000, when the MPF scheme itself began. (Image: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Since last year, Hongkongers living in the UK and Canada have been denied access to their Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) retirement savings. As of 2024, the amount of funds trapped has risen from US$2.8 billion to US$3.8 billion.

The MPF is a system designed to provide Hongkongers retirement funds, where they can withdraw their money early with a “statutory declaration” that they had left the city permanently without any desire to return.

Those who live abroad thanks to their British National (Overseas) (BNO) passports should be allowed to withdraw their savings to help them move forward with their lives.

However, the MPF Authority, overseer of all MPF transactions, said in March 2021 that the  BNO passport had been declared invalid by the Hong Kong government as “a valid travel document and proof of identity” as of January 2021, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

This move has restricted overseas Hongkongers with BNO passports from obtaining funds early without proper proof. Tens of thousands of people would have to struggle without a strong foundation of money in nations far away from home.

MPF-related rules and regulations have yet to change, and international trustees like HSBC, Standard Chartered, Manulife and Sun Life, are legally obligated to release MPF funds to beneficiaries who can prove they can live abroad.

However, recent reports from Hong Kong Watch has shown that Hongkongers are still being denied access to their MPF despite possessing the required documents. Thus, thousands of Hong Kongers in the UK and Canada are unable to sustain themselves and their families within their new homes.

Others have also found it hard to afford efforts to help their fellow people in Hong Kong and to make business ventures overseas.


MPF trustees untrustworthy?

Rejection letters from MPF trustees to Hongkongers have long been documented by Hong Kong Watch, showing them denying early withdrawals of MPF on the basis of the invalidity of the BNO passport as valid proof.

These cases appear to be happening, even after Maryscott Greenwood — Manulife’s Global Head of Government Relations for Canada — claimed in a hearing with the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on June 3 that the company had not blocked early withdrawals.

In the same hearing, Sun Life’s Head of Global Government Affairs and Public Policy, Laura Hewitt, also presented their testimony.

Despite their solid meetings with Hong Kong Watch, both trustees were vague on questions from the Canadian Parliament, which several of its members were left unsatisfied with their responses. The MP’s in question — one of them, Jenny Kwan, was a BNO visa holder herself — have pressed the issue of blocked savings since 2021, asking: “Why are you still operating in an autocratic, totalitarian regime that is dominated by Beijing?”

RFA has called on the governments of the UK and Canada to press these issues more to the trustees, while raising awareness of Hong Kong’s current repressive policies; an act of transnational repression troubling new generations of Hongkongers.

MPF expansions

Despite the cases, the MPF system has seen new developments. This includes a  new electronic platform to help providers and members alike to organize their assets in one place. YF Life Trustees, the smallest of the providers, will be the first to use the platform, with HSBC Holdings being the last.

The platform is set to begin service on June 26, where users can witness the largest overhaul of the MPF programme since its inception in 2000.

Meanwhile, starting 2025, employees in Hong Kong will be able to receive the full amount of their long service and severance payments, as employers will no longer have the power to  take away money they put into their employees’ MPF.