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June 1998, Volume 5, Number 6

Hong Kong: Children, Foreign Workers

On May 20, the Hong Kong Court of Appeal reversed the ruling of Justice Brian Keith and ruled that only mainland babies born after their parents had acquired the right to live in Hong Kong are permitted to move to Hong Kong. The Court of Appeal concluded that Justice Keith had "overstated the 'evil' of splitting families."

According to the Court of Appeal, it was the parents' decision, not the law, that split families: "No doubt the permanent resident may be split from his children and family. But it would be a split by his own choice. He had chosen to leave his children and family in mainland China and come to stay in Hong Kong ... in the first place." About 160 of the 800 children affected by the ruling face immediate deportation, although an appeal is expected to delay their removal from Hong Kong.

This issue arose days after the July 1, 1997 handover, when the Chinese-appointed Hong Kong legislature narrowed residence rights, fearing that Hong Kong would be flooded with mainlanders. Lawyers for the children argued the July 1997 law violates constitutional guarantees of individual rights, and that the appointed legislature had no power to make laws because it was not elected.

About 100 mainland mothers with Hong Kong-born children who attend school in Hong Kong but live in China, must drop off and pick up their children at the border, following a security crackdown. Teachers then take the children, most between the ages of three and six, to class. Before July 1, 1997 the mothers were allowed to cross the border to take their children to kindergarten.

Hong Kong in May 1998 closed the last detention center for Vietnamese after the last 267 left. About 2,500 Vietnamese remain in Hong Kong, including 1,500 in an open camp, 550 in private housing, and 410 in jails. After 1975, some 200,000 Vietnamese arrived in Hong Kong, including a peak 64,300 who were held in 14 camps in October 1991. About 144,000 of the Vietnamese who arrived in Hong Kong were resettled in third countries, and 70,000 were repatriated.

Some of the Chinese trying to illegally enter Hong Kong do so on Sha Tau Kok's Chung Ying Street, the only place where Shenzhen and Hong Kong residents live on the same street, and there is no physical border or fence. The street has 77 shops, half of them goldsmiths, and is a tourist attraction for mainlanders. Pregnant women trying to illegally enter Hong Kong in order to give birth there are often arrested in this area.

Foreign Workers.

Hong Kong officials believe that rising unemployment rates are keeping illegal migrants out of the territory; there has been a 31 percent drop in border apprehensions to 751 between January and May 1998 compared to 1997. Hong Kong's unemployment rate rose to 3.5 percent March, 1998, the highest level since 1995. In 1997, some 3,626 illegals were apprehended; the peak was 35,645 in 1992.

Foreign maids in Hong Kong will receive two-year work permits, up from one year, beginning May 25, 1998. Under the new standard contract, foreign maids cannot change employment without official permission, and must leave Hong Kong within two weeks if their contracts are terminated prematurely. Many domestic workers are overstaying their visas while they search for jobs in order to repay the loans used to bring them to Hong Kong from the Philippines.

Some 2,300 Asian maids in Hong Kong had their contracts terminated in March 1998, compared to 1,700 in November 1997. There are about 171,600 foreign maids in Hong Kong, including 140,100 come from the Philippines, 26,100 from Indonesia, and 5,200 from Thailand.

There were 3,179 foreign workers in Hong Kong employed under the Supplementary Labour Scheme, first implemented in 1996. Most are care workers in homes for the elderly, pig farm workers, security guards, sewing machine operators and cooks.

The number of expatriates in Hong Kong has increased by 13,300 to 509,400 since July 1, 1997. Many of the foreigners moving to Hong Kong are escaping problems in other Asian nations. The Filipino population in Hong Kong rose five percent from 146,400 to 154,000. The number of Britons residing in Hong Kong fell 11 percent, from 31,400 to 28,000.


As state-owned Chinese factories lay off workers, many factory workers are rejecting the sharp wage and benefit they must accept to work in service jobs. Factory workers typically receive $80 to $100 a month, housing and health and pension benefits; service jobs often pay less, and offer few or no benefits. Deputy Prime Minister Wu Banguo said: "We have to readjust their mentality toward certain kinds of jobs."

About 100 Chinese women went on a hunger strike in Fiji to protest the fees agents charged to bring them to the island.

Erik Eckholm," Creatively Coping With China's New Economy," New York Times, May 31, 1998. Ng Kang-Chung, "14-month battle of hope ends in day of despair," South China Morning Post, May 21, 1998. "Borderline nuisance for mothers: Border farce for mothers in security blitz," South China Morning Post, May 13, 1998. Michael Wong, " Economic downturn takes the heat off border," Hong Kong Standard, May 13, 1998. Glenn Schloss, "Expatriate numbers hit record," South China Morning Post, May 4, 1998.