February 1998 Volume 5 Number 2
Hong Kong: Children, Guest Workers, Asylum
Children. On January 26, 1998 a Hong Kong judge ruled that 160 mainland-born children with at least one Hong Kong resident parent have the right to live in Hong Kong, even if they were born before their parents obtained Hong Kong resident rights. The judge overturned a law enacted by the legislature set up by the Chinese government when Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in July 1997.
According to the judge, Hong Kong's Basic Law permits all children of Hong Kong permanent residents the right to live in Hong Kong, regardless of whether they were born before or after their parents obtained residence rights in Hong Kong. There are about 77,000 children in mainland China with at least one parent who had Hong Kong residence rights when they were born, and another 250,000 who were born after their parents obtained Hong Kong residence rights. The judge noted that: "One surprising result is that Chinese nationals born in China with no previous connection with Hong Kong may acquire right of abode in middle-age if an elderly parent were then to complete seven years' continuous residence in Hong Kong."
The Hong Kong government is appealing the ruling. Until the appeal is heard, the quota system that permits 150 Chinese to move to Hong Kong each day, including at least 45 children, will remain in place--an average 66 children a day arrived in 1997. If the judge's ruling stands, the number of mainland children entitled to move to Hong Kong will increase significantly.
Hong Kong continues stepped-up operations against illegal immigrants, apprehending 17,819 illegals in 1997, down 23 per cent compared with 1996. In 1997, some 3,992 Hong Kong employers and 1,303 illegal workers were fined or arrested.
Guest Workers. The Hong Kong government is pushing ahead with the Construction Labor Importation Scheme, a plan to import foreign workers to build 85,000 apartments a year. The proposal would permit a committee of government officials to determine how many foreign workers could enter Hong Kong. The proposal is expected to be introduced to the Provisional Legislature in January 1998 and be implemented in March.
Trade unions and pro-democracy political parties oppose the plan. Critics say the proposals would liberalize the importation of workers in nearly all sectors, which would lead to an influx of cheap labor. Business groups that favor importing more workers say the availability of more workers would reduce property costs.
The Chinese government is reportedly teaching Cantonese and the proper use of household appliances to young peasant women near Hong Kong so that they can be employed as maids for families in Cantonese-speaking Guangdong Province and in Hong Kong. Urban residents along China's coast had annual incomes of 4,839 yuan in 1996 ($585), while rural residents averaged 1,926 yuan. In Hong Kong, domestic helpers earn a guaranteed minimum wage of HK$3,868 ($500) a month.
Some 30,900 Hong Kong residents emigrated in 1997, down from 40,300 in 1996. There are 500,000 foreigners in Hong Kong, including 150,000 Filipinos, followed by nationals of the United States, Indonesia, Canada and Britain.
A Hong Kong court ruled that an employer could not escape liability for an injured worker, even if he is illegally present there. Thus, a mainland Chinese worker whose arm was crushed in a waste-disposal machine received $237,980 in damages.
Asylum. On January 6, the Hong Kong Executive Council ended Hong Kong's status as a port for asylum seekers. This means that all illegal immigrants, including Vietnamese boat people, will be deported immediately upon their arrival in Hong Kong--they will not be permitted to apply for asylum.
There are 3,364 Vietnamese boat people in Hong Kong, of whom 1,213 have been screened and determined to be refugees. The refugees are likely to be allowed to settle in Hong Kong, although some prefer to live in other countries.
The British made Hong Kong a port for asylum seekers in 1979. Some 213,000 Vietnamese have passed through Hong Kong since 1979.
Emigration. Some 30,900 people emigrated from Hong Kong in 1997, down from 40,300 in 1996. There are about 500,000 foreign passport holders living in Hong Kong, including 150,000 from the Philippines.
Carrie Lee, "Hong Kong government in court battle over mass influx threat," Reuters, January 27, 1998. Charlotte Parsons, "Ruling on mainland-born children may see hundreds of thousands qualify," South China Morning Post, January 27, 1998. Priscilla Cheung, "China-Born Kids Win Hong Kong Right," Associated Press, January 26, 1998. Lucia Palpal-latoc, "Maids fear they will soon have to pack their bags," Hong Kong Standard, January 16, 1998. "Hong Kong emigrant number sets decade low this year," Xinhua, 29 December 1997. Carmen Cheung, "Port of first asylum policy sunk," Hong Kong Standard, January 7, 1998.