China has announced it will no longer recognise the British National (Overseas) passport as a valid travel and identification document starting January 31. The measure extends to Hong Kong, which has been at the centre of an international political debate.

BN(O) passports were issued prior to Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997, serving primarily as a form of identification with no right to abode in the UK. As many as five million Hong Kong residents born before 1997 are eligible for the special status.

The Chinese government’s latest announcement comes shortly after the UK released further details about its visa scheme for BN(O) holders looking to relocate from Hong Kong. The UK scheme, which was created in response to Hong Kong’s national security law, begins accepting applications on January 31 and has sparked criticism from China over the past few months.

“The [Chinese government’s] adoption of the stance and policy in response to the UK’s breach of commitment is a matter of foreign affairs and squarely within its prerogative. The Hong Kong government will fully follow up on the necessary measures for implementing the relevant policy,” said the Hong Kong government in a statement.

For travellers, the change means BN(O) passports will no longer be accepted for immigration clearance or identification across Hong Kong and mainland China. 

Airlines have been instructed to only accept Hong Kong passports or permanent identity cards as proof of residency for entry into the city, according to the Hong Kong government. 

Since March, Hong Kong borders have remained closed to non-residents.