Time to review one-way permits

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 April, 1997, 12:00am

Hong Kong people have long been sceptical of the logic of China processing mainlanders' applications to emigrate to the territory. The recent upsurge in illegal arrivals of mainland children gives fresh impetus for demands to end the practice.

Parents of mainland children are known to be frustrated with the long waiting time for their children to immigrate legally to Hong Kong to be reunited with their families.

The problem is not that Hong Kong has no orderly immigration programme for Hong Kong residents' mainland-born children. It is that the daily one-way permit quota is abused.

Locals who have relatives waiting to be reunited with them have heard stories of how huge bribes have to be paid.

A lot of them are fed up because they cannot afford it and they are frustrated because calls for a fair quota allocation system appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

This has prompted a stronger voice within the community for granting the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government the right to vet the applications. Many in Hong Kong believe this is a logical answer to corruption and to ensure those entitled to residency can come here at a reasonable time.

Many would expect this approach would have the ready support of the SAR government. But the SAR's Secretary of Justice-designate Elsie Leung Oi-sie did not seem keen on the idea.

There have been conflicting reports on Ms Leung's stance. Some media quoted her as saying that mainland public security officials had to be consulted.

But others reported she flatly denied the vetting right should be handed over to the SAR government.

Apparently, Ms Leung's argument was based on Article 22 of the Basic Law which says: 'For entry into the Hong Kong SAR, people from other parts of China must apply for approval. Among them, the number of persons who enter the region for the purpose of settlement shall be determined by the competent authorities of the central people's government after consulting the government of the region.' She said that the SAR government only had the right to be consulted on the quota. But this is a narrow interpretation of the Basic Law because stating that the Hong Kong administration will be consulted on quota does not deprive the SAR government of the right to vet individual applications.

There is nothing in the article which clearly suggests that the mainland authorities should be the administration, let alone the only organisation, that has the power to vet the applications.

The one-way permit system has its historical background. Before the handover, it involves two acts on the part of the immigrants - leaving Chinese territory and entering into a place under a different sovereign power.

After the handover, the question of leaving Chinese soil does not arise. It will merely be a question of mainlanders applying to settle in the SAR.

Based on the letter and spirit of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, Hong Kong should enjoy a high degree of autonomy except for matters relating to defence and foreign affairs.

Clearly, the immigration issue is a domestic matter and the SAR administration should be fully capable of handling any immigration applications from other parts of the mainland.

Ms Leung suggested that it was time to revamp the one-way permit system and she is right. But for Hong Kong people, the only right and logical way to do it is for the SAR administration to assume the vetting role.

This should prove to be a more effective and efficient approach.