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June 1999, Volume 6, Number 6

Hong Kong: Mainland Chinese

Under a January 1999 court ruling, an estimated 692,000 mainland Chinese received permission to move from mainland China to Hong Kong as soon as migration procedures can be worked out, and another 983,000 children of the first wave of migrants are expected to gain residency rights within seven to 10 years.

On May 18, Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, said that "It is clear that Hong Kong cannot bear the burden of these 1.67 million people." Chee-hwa announced that Hong Kong would ask Chinese legislators to revoke the residency rights of 1.5 million mainland Chinese, leaving 200,000 mainlanders with the right to move to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong, with a per capita GDP of $25,000, has 6.8 million residents. The Hong Kong government put the cost of absorbing 1.7 million mainland migrants at $92 billion in infrastructure and service costs. Unemployment was projected to double, from six to 13 percent.

To get around the Hong Kong Court's ruling, Hong Kong's legislature must first vote on Chee-hwa's request. The Basic Law Committee, made up of six Hong Kong members and six mainland members, would then make a recommendation to the Standing Committee, which meets in June, 1999. Legal experts that this strategy means the government is overturning the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal's ruling and is discrediting the independence and autonomy of Hong Kong's judiciary.

Chee-hwa's strategy to undo the court's ruling seems to have broad popular support. A Hong Kong Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies survey released on May 12 found that more than 80 percent of Hong Kong citizens favored seeking help from Beijing to help solve problems posed by mainland Chinese migrants. The poll also found that 94 percent of respondents want the National People's Congress, China's legislature, to reinterpret a provision in Hong Kong's Basic Law that allows any mainland Chinese to settle in Hong Kong provided at least one of his parents is a permanent resident of Hong Kong, which would make Beijing the final authority on Hong Kong matters.

Many experts questioned the Hong Kong government's strategy, saying the government was trying to scare the public into opposing mainland migrants. No one knows exactly how many mainland Chinese will claim that they have a Hong Kong parent and ask to move to Hong Kong. One demographer noted that the government estimate of 1.7 million potential migrants implied that one in four Hong Kong men has an out-of-wedlock child in China, and that most mainland Chinese wives of Hong Kong men had more than one child; he thought a more realistic estimate of the number of migrants was 950,000. Critics observed that China still restricts exits to 150 a day, and has not indicated it will increase the number of exit permits.

A survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong found that 32 percent of the respondents believed that government's estimate that there are 1.67 million mainlanders with right of abode is "too high;" 25 percent thought it as "right;" and 31 percent believed it was "too low." The total number of respondents was not indicated in the report. In the same study, 31 percent said amending the Basic Law was the best solution to the controversy, while 21 percent agreed that Hong Kong should accept all the mainlanders with right of abode.

Some observers report that the "quality" of mainland Chinese migrants, as measured by education and wealth, has been declining,. The Chinese who entered Hong Kong after 1949 were members of the commercial elite; those who migrated during the Chinese Cultural Revolution were scholars and intellectuals. Current migrants are primarily from neighboring Guandong Province, and they tend to have little education.

Maids. President Joseph Estrada was welcomed in Hong Kong on May 16 by 50,000 of the 140,000 Filipina maids in Hong Kong. Estrada condemned the decision of the Hong Kong government to permit employers to reduce maids salaries by five percent to HK$3760 ($485) a month. In a discussion with the maids, Estrada thanked them for remittances, saying that "Without you the economy would not be stable." The maids asked Estrada to reduce the fees charged by Philippine consulates for passport renewals and employment contract authentication and to provide consulate services on Sundays.

Hong Kong immigration officials will investigate reports of widespread underpayment of Indonesian domestic helpers. The Asian Migrant Centre reports that about 90 percent of the 31,800 Indonesian domestic workers are denied their proper salary and statutory days off. The minimum required pay for foreign workers is $3,670, a five percent cut enacted in February 1999 due to the Asian economic crisis. The Immigration Department reports that the number of Indonesian workers in the country has increased by 20 percent in the past year, making Indonesians the second largest group of foreigners in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong government is considering setting up a hotline so that foreign domestic workers could report employers and recruitment agencies who are cheating them. Many maids do not report that they are paid less than the government mandated minimum wage because they could be prosecuted for accepting wages below the minimum requirement.

Mark Landler, "Protecting Xanadu: Hong Kong Seeks its Own Chinese Wall," New York Times, May 23, 1999. "Philippine president arrives in Hong Kong to massive reception," Agence France Presse, May 16, 1999. "H.K. citizens favor Beijing's help on immigration: poll," Kyodo, May 12, 1999. Mark Landler, "Hong Kong Fears Immigrant Tidal Wave," New York Times, May 7, 1999. May Tam, "Officials to report on impact of migrant flood," Hong Kong Standard, May 6, 1999. Erik Guyot, "Growing Fears of an Immigrant Deluge from Mainland Galvanize Hong Kong," Wall Street Journal, May 6, 1999.