New Immigrants Have to be HK Residents for 7 Years Before Getting PR is Not Discrimination

Hong Kong Economic Times

15th August 2013

Chinese Immigrants Have to Reside for 7 Years Before Getting PR: It’s Not Discrimination

「居港7年」限制 何來歧視?

New immigrants have to live in Hong Kong for seven years before getting their permanent residency, by then they are eligible for all the benefits and rights the Hong Kong fellow citizens can enjoy, including public housing, Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme and be able to join the civil servant. An organisation recently accused the HKSAR government for discriminating new immigrants from China and demanded the government to cancel the “7-year policy”. There is limited resources in the society, why is a system to prioritise people for enjoying social benefits discriminative?

Society for Community Organisation and representatives of new immigrants from China recently met with York Chow Yat-Ngok, Chairman of Equal Opportunities Commission, to discuss how new immigrants from China are being discriminated, including having to live in Hong Kong for seven years before they can apply for CSSA, public housing and civil servant jobs. The Organisation and representatives accused the government for instigating discrimination against new immigrants from China and demanded relevant regulations to be revoked. They also urged the government to impose new law to protect new immigrants from being discriminated. York Chow said that the Commission may study the possibility for legislation that prevent new immigrants from being discriminated. He, however, emphasised that it is difficult to define what “new immigrants” are. 

Census and Statistics Department’s 2011 data shows, there are around 171,000 new immigrants from China who have lived in Hong Kong for less than seven years, that is 2.5% of Hong Kong’s total population and median age is 31.5 year-old. New immigrants in Hong Kong (regardless of where they come from), will not be granted Hong Kong permanent residency (PR) immediately.

People have to reside in Hong Kong for over seven years before they can apply for their PRs. It is an international practice that citizens of a country have the priority to enjoy social benefits provided by the country.

Once a new immigrant becomes a permanent resident in Hong Kong, he/she can enjoy the same benefits the citizens of Hong Kong can enjoy, including apply for public housing, medical and rights to vote. It is not possible to treat non-PR and PR equally on this front. Such limitations do not only apply to new immigrants from a certain country, but apply to any new immigrants from around the world.

The “7-year policy” is essentially a minimal entry requirement, can it really be categorised as a form of discrimination?

Resource in each society is limited, the government has to priorities when it comes to distributing resources. Local residents should be given the priority ahead of non-residents. This makes total sense!

Law Chi-kwong, Chairman of the Community Care Fund of Poverty Relief, said that in general a government will categorise its population into two groups: citizens and non-citizens. The former enjoys more benefits than the latter. It is a social consensuses that a government should look after the local citizens before others. He also said that this is a internationally recognised practice, and it is difficult to say that the difference in benefits PR and non-PR in Hong Kong can enjoy is a kind of discrimination or unreasonable.

In fact, many countries have similar limitations imposed on new immigrants. The US, for example, new immigrants are not allowed to apply for social benefits until they have resided in the US for over five years. Permanent residents (immigrants) in Singapore cannot buy first hand public properties, and priorities of school places are given to citizens of Singapore. The rationale behind these limitations is to ensure the needs of the local citizens.

Even citizens have priorities when it comes to distribution of resources, there are other criteria they have to fulfill in order to receive benefits. For example, one has to be be within a certain age group and fulfill the income and asset limit to be qualified to apply for public housing. There are regulations and limitations for resources distribution for citizens, can this be labelled as discrimination too?

It is true that new immigrants from China have to adapt to the Hong Kong living style and compete with the Hong Kong citizens for work opportunities, and that it is difficult for them to integrate due to cultural and social differences. However, locals will find it difficult to accomodate some immigrants, but this is no different from any other countries. Professor Chou Kee-lee from Asian and Policy Studies Department at The Hong Kong Institute of Education, said in an article last month that previous studies show people of Hong Kong have relatively negative impression on China new immigrants. 50% of the Hong Kong citizens think that the number of China new immigrants should be reduced or slightly reduced; and 53% of them think that China new immigrants takes benefits from Hong Kong more than contributing to society. 

The society has a slightly negative impression on new immigrants from China is not the same as discrimination. New immigrants, regardless of origin, have to adapt to a new environment and integrate into the local society. This is always difficult, and it is the same to the people of Hong Kong who immigrated to other countries. When they are not qualified to enjoy any social benefits or civil rights, they will have to weather these challenges.

There are plenty of support for new immigrants in Hong Kong. Public housing and CSSA are granted to some in special situations. Besides, Community Care Fund gives out one-off subsidies to qualified new immigrants. Public housing and CSSA are long term benefits that require a lot more consideration. Having certain requirements, including the “7-year policy” is aiming at distributing resources in a reasonable manner. In fact, immigration is a personal choice which carries pros and cons. Before making such choice, one must have prepared oneself. Hong Kongers who emigrated to other countries have to tie over a difficult period too. There are around 50,000 new immigrants coming to Hong Kong every year, and many of them are very hard-working and contribute to Hong Kong. It is understandable that some organsations want to help the grass-root new immigrants to get more attention from the society, but their demands should be reasonable or else they will not be accepted by the general public, but instead the public will be find them avaricious. When a government faces such demands, it has handle them in a just and fair manner, and follow the principles of distributing resources in order to prevent intensifying conflicts in the society.

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