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April 1999, Volume 6, Number 4

Hong Kong: Children, China

In January 1999, Hong Kong's highest court ruled that the estimated 350,000 mainland Chinese children with one Hong Kong parent, including those who were born out of wedlock in mainland China, have the constitutional right to live in Hong Kong. There were fears of a mass migration into Hong Kong, and the Chinese government's Bureau of Entry and Exit Administration announced that, despite the ruling, it would not process the applications of illegitimate children with a Hong Kong parent to move to Hong Kong.

Chinese arriving in Hong Kong have either one-way immigration or two-way entry-exit permits; 150 one-way permits are available each day. Some visitors on two-way permits did not return after the abode ruling, and in March a hearing was held in a case involving 17 overstayers who are challenging a government order that they return to the mainland and obtain a Certificate of Entitlement (one-way permit) before moving to Hong Kong; the 17 arrived on two-way permits and illegally stayed because they had Hong Kong parents.

On March 30, a Hong Kong court ruled that the 1,200 Chinese who have the right to live in Hong Kong, but who came to Hong Kong without one-way permits, can be deported back to the mainland. In order to return legally, they will have to obtain one-way permits. Hours after the ruling, immigration officials detained about 30 mainland Chinese with expired visas.

Most Hong Kong residents--68 percent in a recent survey--fear that the abode ruling "would result in a flood of migrants." If the Hong Kong government ultimately wins the right of the government to demand that mainland children of Hong Kong parents get an exit certificate before moving, hundreds of overstayers are expected to defy the order and refuse to leave Hong Kong. If the courts do not force the overstayers to return, there are predictions of mass illegal immigration.

The Secretary for Security said on March 2 that Hong Kong might amend its constitution (Basic Law) to prevent a mass influx of migrants from mainland China. To change the Basic Law, the Hong Kong government would first need backing from two-thirds of the 60-member Hong Kong legislature, and two-thirds of the local deputies to China's National People's Congress (NPC), or parliament.

A proposal by the local National People's Congress, support by about 20 of the 36 local deputies, would give Hong Kong a say in determining how mainland Chinese authorities determine who has priority to get one of the 150 one-way exit permits available each day. Chinese authorities reportedly demand bribes when determining who gets one of the 150 exit visas.

A report by the Standard Chartered Bank found that the potential influx of a large number of migrants will put pressure on various community services, but the additional labor force will also increase economic growth and tax revenues. Migrants are expected to depress wages for unskilled workers, but may raise wages for skilled workers. Hong Kong's unemployment rate climbed to six percent in March, the highest rate since 1982.

Hong Kong immigration officials were reportedly instructed in March 1999 under Operation Hoover to stop every Thai woman between the age of 18 and 40 arriving for the first time on suspicion of involvement in prostitution. After the Thai government complained, Hong Kong said: "where doubts arise as to the bona fide intention of the traveler, the need for a more in-depth interview is inevitable."

China. In a public ceremony on March 21, authorities in Shenzhen province sentenced four immigrant smugglers to labor camps terms ranging from one to one and a half years. Fifteen illegal immigrants were sentenced to 15 days detention.

Previously, people who smuggled migrants were given only token sentences, and illegal immigrants were fined. Chinese authorities are handing out stiffer penalties, especially to traffickers along the borders with Hong Kong and Macau, in order "to maintain stability in Hong Kong as well as in Macau." Macau will revert to Chinese sovereignty from Portugal in December, 1999.

Chinese cities such as Shanghai have begun to relax rules that prevented migrants from securing residence permits, or hukou. The hukou system was established in 1958 to prevent rural-urban migration--without a local hukou, a person could not rent an apartment or buy subsidized food.

During the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, some urban residents were sent to rural areas, and lost their right to return to urban areas. Since the mid-1980s, former urban residents and their children have been able to regain their urban hukous, and some have done so. In September, 1998, China's State Council urged cities to be even more generous, to allow children to receive a hukou through either parent at birth instead of inheriting residency just through the mother, and to permit aging parents to live with urban offspring.

Some states have gone further. Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, grants hukous to migrants after seven years residence, and to investors immediately after they make a $30,000 investment. Shanghai offers three-year probationary hukous to those who invest at least $24,000 in property.

The Beijing city government is trying to reduce the number of migrants from three million to 1.8 million. Migrants in Beijing are prohibited from working in 37 occupations--most are employed as maids or laborers.

Most Chinese students who go abroad to study do not return to China. In 1995, China established a commission to oversee scholarships for students going abroad, and required them to sign contracts obliging them to repay China if they did not return. Some Chinese students who were permitted to remain in the countries in which they were studying after the 1989 Tiananman massacre report that China is attempting to get them to repay their scholarship funds by demanding extraordinarily high visa fees, e.g. $6000, if they attempt to visit relatives in China, even though they are now American or Australian citizens.

Tara Suilen Duffy, "Hong Kong Court Rules on Immigrants," AP, March 30, 1999. "China boosts illegal immigration penalties: report," Agence France Presse, March 22, 1999. Audrey Parwani, "Overstayers renew protest," South China Morning Post, March 15, 1999. No Kwai-Yan, "SAR 'should participate in screening of migrants,'" South China Morning Post, March 15, 1999. Stella Lee, "Warning of illegal immigrant influx if SAR loses test case," South China Morning Post, March 10, 1999. Audrey Parwani, "Setback for mainland overstayers," South China Morning Post, March 9, 1999.