1.5 million mainland migrants change Hong Kong

June 19, 2017 10:40
Hong Kong has no say over the quota of mainland immigrants. Photo: Reuters

Many things have changed since Hong Kong returned to China on July 1, 1997. The city has gained 1.5 million new citizens from the mainland they account for 20 percent of the population.

Family reunion cases account for the largest number – 935,000 from the handover until the end of 2016. More than 70,000 have come under the "Mainland Talents and Professionals" scheme, which has been implemented since July 2003, and 200,000 were children born here to two mainland parents.

The rest are wealthy capital investors, spouses of Hong Kong people, students who have stayed on after graduating, and others who have come under a variety of visas.

There are many ways to look at these new arrivals. One is to welcome them as completing families that were divided. Another is to say that their labor is needed because the city is ageing and has one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

“Everyone here is an immigrant,” said Leung Man-sing, a vendor of Chinese medicines. “It is only a question of when we came. I have nothing against the new migrants as long as they behave according to our customs and regulations.”

For others, Hong Kong is already one of the world’s most crowded cities and the daily arrival of about 130 new people is too many.

Since many are poor, they compete with local people for a limited supply of public housing, schools and hospitals that is already under strain.

For opponents of the central government, the new citizens are the instruments of Beijing’s "mainlandization" of Hong Kong – the same policy that was used to "sinicize" Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet, assimilate the local population and force the use of Putonghua.

Studies by academics show that more than two thirds of supporters of democratic parties are natives of the city who have grown up with and treasure ideas of rule of law and democratic government.

The migrants, on the other hand, grew up under China’s one-party system and its severe control of information. They are more likely to be "patriotic" and "nationalist" and support the Hong Kong and central governments, the studies found.

But the parallels with Tibet and Xinjiang are not exact. There the Han Chinese arrivals have settled in the midst of a minority with a different language, religion, history and way of thinking; conflict was inevitable.

But here “Hongkongization” often occurs, especially among the young and well-educated who are delighted to embrace the local values and opinions that they consider better than those they left behind.

They admire the lack of corruption, the freedom of assembly, speech and media, and the diversity of opinion impossible in the mainland. They have made a choice to come here and not stay in their native place.

If they cannot create a better economic life here, they have the option to go home.

“I am proud to be a Hongkonger and have embraced its core values,” said Wong Lai-ming, who moved here from Guangdong in 1997 on a family reunion visa.

“I marched against Article 23 and in favor of universal suffrage. Bringing families together is a good thing. That is a good reason to issue migrant visas.”

She said that, in her early years here, local people were more open and tolerant toward new migrants. “But this has changed in the last 10 years. We have become scapegoats for people’s anger against Beijing and issues like the children of mainland children born here, the trade in milk powder and other goods, and the lack of progress on democracy.”

A majority of Hong Kong people support family-reunion visas as appropriate and humanitarian, as well as the import of talent which the city needs and does not have.

What they object to is the visas obtained through fake marriages, guanxi (connections) and "princelings", those with connections to those in power but no links to Hong Kong.

They are able to obtain visas through the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) which controls the allocation of those visas.

I have met people here with a People's Republic identity card from provinces in North China who speak no Cantonese and have no family here nor a post in a city firm.

I wonder how they obtained a visa; but I am not blunt enough to ask them – the question would suggest they obtained them "through the back door".

My suspicion is that, since there are few family reunion applications in these provinces, Hong Kong visas can be obtained with the right guanxi and possibly cash.

Hong Kong people would also like their government to have a say in the size of the quota, so that the number could be adjusted according to the state of the economy and the city’s ability to absorb newcomers.

No modern city in the world can live without inward and outward movement of its citizens, especially an international center like Hong Kong. Since it is such a desirable destination, we must optimize the candidates.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.