22 April 2019
An influx of pregnant mainland women prior to 2012 led to overstretching of the capacity of Hong Kong's public hospitals and caused much public resentment. Photo: NY Times
An influx of pregnant mainland women prior to 2012 led to overstretching of the capacity of Hong Kong's public hospitals and caused much public resentment. Photo: NY Times

Rethinking the ban on ‘doubly non-permanent resident babies’

A rich mainland woman who was seeking a primary section place for her daughter recently at Hong Kong’s Maryknoll Convent School was heard making loud remarks as to how people like her have been a blessing for the city.

“We (mainlanders) paid more taxes than local Hongkongers, and have made more contribution to the city’s economy,” the woman said proudly, arguing that there is good reason why her daughter deserves a place at the elite public school.

The comments put off Hong Kong locals, who took it as another example of the arrogance of rich people from across the border.

The feelings were not surprising, but a perceptive observer couldn’t help but agree that the mainland mother did have a point.

Hong Kong does need more mainland children and it must adopt a liberal policy toward kids whose parents are both non-permanent residents of the city, the so-called doubly non-permanent residents.

Rather than any other reason, a new policy is needed to help tackle Hong Kong’s population aging issue, experts say.

Against this backdrop, Hong Kong Vision Project, a think-tank initiated by former Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing, said in a report recently that the government should lift a ban on mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong.

It suggested that authorities should set an an annual quota of 15,000 to 25,000 for births of children whose parents are both non-permanent Hong Kong residents.

Restarting the doubly non-permanent resident children policy will help Hong Kong cope with the rapidly aging population, the think-tank said.

Prior to 2012, there were around 20,000 to 30,000 doubly non-permanent resident children born in Hong Kong each year.

But an influx of pregnant Chinese mothers, who by giving birth claim automatic rights for their newborns, had sparked resentment among Hongkongers.

The mainland parents and their kids were blamed for causing problems for locals, including putting pressure on resources such as hospitals, schools or even infant formula.

In 2012, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying put a stop to this by banning public hospitals from accepting the mainland mothers-to-be.

But the situation is different now. Hong Kong is facing a serious problem given the rapidly aging population.

The city’s fertility rate is at a record low of 1.19 children per woman as of last year, well below the replacement level of 2.1. The puts the city near the bottom among 224 cities and regions worldwide, according to CIA data.

The medium age of local population is forecast to increase to 50 in 2034, from 43.7 in 2014. And the city’s working force is expected to decline to 3.43 million by 2031 from 3.65 million at present.

It’s a pressing issue for Hong Kong to boost its population and encourage local couples to have more children. However, many young couples are struggling to have enough space for an intimate time, let alone starting a family and have kids, as a result of the city’s exorbitantly high home prices.

In that sense, the suggestion of Hong Kong Vision is probably not a bad idea, with some specifications, so that we can increase our population but at the same time avoid the extra burden on our local healthcare, education and welfare systems.

We can do it, for example by imposing a charge on the quota.

If the government charges, say HK$10 million, for each quota for a mainland mother to give birth in Hong Kong, we can ensure that only the well-offs can afford it.

Ten million may seem like an exorbitant sum, but not really if we consider that lots of mainland buyers paid that amount of stamp duty when purchasing a property in Hong Kong.

Those who can afford to pay for the quota, they are unlikely to deplete our resources or compete with local grass-roots families for social welfare support. Instead, they will contribute a lot to the city’s fiscal income.

Like it or not, Hong Kong is going to be interlinked more and more with the mainland in the long run. What we can do is minimize the drawbacks and maximize the benefits in the process.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 13

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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