After years of wavering, a young couple from Hubei province decided to send their seven-year-old Hong Kong-born son to the mainland in order to qualify for a local residency permit.
That meant a complete change of plans for their child who became a Hong Kong permanent resident by birth.
Yet, just two years ago, such a decision would have been unthinkable.
The couple were among tens of thousands of mainland parents who took advantage of visa loopholes, in the process taking considerable risks, to give birth in Hong Kong in the hope of giving their children better education, healthcare and social services — in short, a better future.
But for the Hubei couple at least, that future is in the mainland. They are in the minority, but perhaps not for long.
More than 200,000 babies were born in Hong Kong to non-local parents, mostly mainlanders, in the past decade, Hong Kong government data shows.
However, since last year, the government has received a growing number of inquiries from mainland families regarding cancellation of their children’s Hong Kong permanent resident status, according to media reports.
These emerged after reports mainland families are increasingly unable to cope with the cost of living in Hong Kong, not to mention cramped accommodation and hostility from Hong Kong people.
The Hubei couple do not appear to be in such dire straits, but they could have found better use for their money, Southern Weekend reported. They were determined to send their son to the best schools. They had chosen a kindergarten school on Hong Kong Island that would ensure their son’s admission to a primary institution.
The price tag? About HK$100,000 (US$12,896) in annual tuition fees, HK$40,000 a month for living expenses including rent, food and additional fees for extracurricular sessions.
Many international schools are unwelcoming to these Hong Kong-born children unless their mainland parents invest in debentures which can be many times more than tuition expenses.
Last year, more than 30,000 children of mainland families had to fight for limited school places against their local counterparts.
Some mainland families have moved to Shenzhen to stay close to Hong Kong for their children while avoiding its prohibitive costs. Thousands of schoolchildren make the daily, two-hour cross-border commute, but with the rapid growth in demand for cross-border transport, parents have started to complain about rising costs which, in some cases, are said to outstrip tuition fees.
Increasingly, many are finding a Hong Kong education for their Hong Kong-born children not worth the trouble.
The problem is Shenzhen public schools, for instance, refuse to admit students with Hong Kong residency. And with allocations in private schools in short supply — it is said only one in 10 applicants makes it at any one time — competition is arguably fiercer than in China’s college entrance examination.
Under China’s hukou (household registration) system, children with Hong Kong permanent resident status cannot register for residency in the mainland. That means they cannot be admitted to public schools or allowed to sit an examination for admission to higher education. Also, they are not entitled to medical and other benefits.
But getting out of Hong Kong residency is proving to be trickier than getting in.
Mainland China does not recognize dual nationality, so giving up Hong Kong residency is a prerequisite to a hukou registration. But as it turns out, renouncing Hong Kong permanent residency changes nothing under Hong Kong law, Hong Kong Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok says.
When their son asks “am I a Hongkonger?”, the Hubei couple have no answer, but they probably wish they could say “No”.
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