Immigration proposal sparks debate

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2012, 12:00am


An academic's controversial proposal to allow mainland parents of Hong Kong-born babies into the city to boost the local workforce has renewed debate over the government's say in who can immigrate under the one-way permit scheme.

Critics said the proposal by University of Hong Kong Professor Paul Yip Siu-fai would not be successful if the government did not have the right to select which mainlanders could move to the city under the scheme.

The scheme has a daily quota of 150 places, but the selection process is solely under the control of the central government.

'The problem is that the Hong Kong government does not even have a say in deciding who should be given a permit,' said James To Kun-sun, a Democratic Party lawmaker monitoring immigration issues. 'I have doubts about how effective the proposal would be under existing circumstances.'

In an interview earlier this month, Yip, a demographics expert, called on the incoming government of Leung Chun-ying to consider devising a quota system that would allow mainland parents delivering babies in Hong Kong to gain the right of abode if they fulfilled certain educational and professional requirements.

Yip said the proposal would replenish the shrinking workforce in the next two decades. He cited studies showing that 60 per cent of mainland parents who opted to have babies in Hong Kong had received post-secondary education, and were mostly professionals and managers. He said these parents should be allowed the right of abode.

However, To said many mainland parents could simply be escaping the central government's one-child policy and they might not boost the local economy. 'I'm not sure about their wish to serve Hong Kong,' the lawmaker said.

William Lee Hok-lim, former chairman of the Immigration Service Officers Association, said Yip's proposal could also be unfair to less-educated parents. It might also cause administrative problems if eligible parents delayed their entry, he said.

Chief executive-elect Leung has stated in his manifesto that he hopes the city can participate in the selection and approval process under the one-way permit scheme, though he gave no further details.

To suggested that Hong Kong should be allowed to select at least half of the applicants, to ensure that mainlanders settling in Hong Kong would contribute to the city.

Yip said one-third of all births in the city last year - or close to 33,000 babies - were to mainland parents.

Sze Lai-shan, from the Society for Community Organisation, that while the scheme helped reunite families split between the mainland and Hong Kong, mainlanders could also be using the scheme for purposes other than what it was meant for.

'Many of those parents may see settling in Hong Kong as a stepping stone to immigrating to other countries,' she said.

Sze also called for the Hong Kong government's participation in the approval process, and in studies on the parents' backgrounds and their willingness to live in the city.

Nevertheless, Edmond So Wai-chung, general manager of Besteam Personnel Consultancy, said Yip's suggestion warranted in-depth study, as some sectors like banking faced staff shortages and succession problems.

However, To said any changes to the one-way permit scheme's implementation should be in response to demand from those industries.


The number of children that were born to mainland mothers in Hong Kong last year - about a third of the total for the city