25 October 2016
Hong Kong needs to ensure that its immigration framework serves the city's interests, rather than those of the mainland government. Photo: CNSA
Hong Kong needs to ensure that its immigration framework serves the city's interests, rather than those of the mainland government. Photo: CNSA

Is it time for HK to say no to the one-way permit scheme?

The one-way permit scheme pertaining to mainland immigrants has often been the subject of intense debate in Hong Kong.

Critics say the policy is outdated and that it serves as a reminder of China’s aim to “colonize” the special administrative region.   

The scheme, which allows 150 mainlanders a day to come to Hong Kong to reunite with their families, is administered by Chinese authorities, with Hong Kong having no say on who can come in. 

The policy has also been blamed for various problems, including rising tensions between mainlanders and Hong Kong people and rising property costs. 

Meanwhile, questions are being asked whether the mandatory immigration quota still makes sense, given that 18 years have passed since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule. 

The time has come for the Hong Kong government to seek a review of the policy, observers say, pointing out that the quota is anyway being underutilized.

In an article published Thursday, China’s People’s Daily said mainlanders are no longer treating the Hong Kong one-way permit as valuable as before.

Pointing to unused quota of more than 10,000 in the past two years, the article said that Hong Kong has seen its attractiveness diminish in the minds of the Chinese people.

It noted that the economic gap between Hong Kong and China has been narrowing in recent years. 

Meanwhile, the recent conflicts and anti-mainlander protests have also prompted some Chinese to think that Hong Kong is not a good place to live in.

At the same time, the Communist Party mouthpiece argued that Hong Kong in urgent need to boost its talent pool, something that the mainland has in abundance.

As of now, 14 percent of the people who have obtained one-way permits are degree holders. They stand on their own in Hong Kong without enjoying any subsidies from the government. 

Still, there is resentment among Hong Kong locals about the immigration program.  

Many people believe that the one-way permit scheme serves as a tool for Beijing to gradually change the population mix in Hong Kong and integrate the city with China.

That’s why a quota system has been put in place to bring in more mainlanders.

In 17 years following the handover, around 830,000 one-way permit holders have settled in the city. Around 98 percent of them are spouses or children of Hong Kong residents.

The permit holders now comprise more than 10 percent of Hong Kong’s population. If the immigration policy is continued, the ratio is bound to rise.

That will please Beijing, but could further dilute the importance of local Hong Kong people who were born and raised prior to the city’s handover.

Immigrants from the mainland tend to be on the side of the central government and cast their votes in favor of pro-Beijing politicians during elections for district councils and the legislature.

That’s the reason why the Leung Chun-ying administration is praising the contribution of the people and describing them as the new force that will ensure sustainable growth for the city.

What is not mentioned is the political game plan behind the one-way permit policy, and Beijing’s aim to change the existing population structure.

It’s not only Hongkongers, some clever Chinese people are also realizing that the reason for Beijing’s implementation of the scheme is to turn Hong Kong into another Chinese city.

Many Chinese had applied to move to Hong Kong due to the uniqueness of the place as a liberal and international city, rather than to help Beijing to integrate the former British colony.

But now there is a feeling that Beijing is trying to get a tighter grip on Hong Kong and transform it into another Chinese city like Beijing or Shanghai. 

The growing intervention in Hong Kong’s internal affairs could be a reason why several mainlanders are now opting to move to other countries, rather than to Hong Kong.

Given that the Chinese no longer have great incentive to move to Hong Kong, it is time for the local government to seize the opportunity and suggest to Beijing to scrap the 150-person daily quota.

The quota can then be reallocated to the Hong Kong government’s own immigration scheme to lure qualified overseas talents.

That will help local authorities infuse new vigor and bring fresh ideas for the city’s development, rather than merely serve Beijing’s political interests.

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EJ Insight writer

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