US a useful guide to immigration control

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 February, 1999, 12:00am

Instead of crying over spilled milk, I would suggest that we start to think about damage control now an estimated 600,000 candidates are eligible to come to the SAR following the Court of Final Appeal's ruling on the right of abode issue.

The best way to start is look at how the United States government handles the mammoth problem of literally thousands of people crashing at the gate to America, no doubt the most sought-after country by immigrants. Under the doctrine of plenary power, the US government enjoys sole and full authority over the local regime governing immigration, and the actions of the political branch merit extraordinary judicial deference. By analogy, the SAR Government (headed by the Chief Executive) should have the ultimate power to decide on immigration matters, that is, within the law.

The US Immigration Act of 1990, which is the current law, establishes an annual limit for worldwide immigration, under which certain quotas are assigned to three categories of visa for entry to the US, family-sponsored immigrants being one. Visas (entry permits) are granted on a first-come-first-served basis. Because of the quota control, immigrants learn they may wait years before applications are granted.

For family-sponsored immigrants (comparable to 'right of abode' cases), the system prioritises applicants according to so-called 'preferences'. 'First preference' is allocated to 'unmarried adult sons and daughters of US citizens'. For each preference, there is an annual quota. The SAR could do the same; the control is legitimate and in keeping with its autonomous status under the Basic Law.

Each application for entry to the US under the first preference must include proof of a 'bona fide parent-child relationship'. Documents such as money order receipts that show the father's financial support of the child, income returns that show the child as a dependent, and so on, must be produced. The SAR could consider, in addition to these, a DNA test to establish a bona fide parent-child relationship for each applicant.

Another feature to be considered by the SAR is the so-called double-check system used by the US.

To translate into the Hong Kong situation, the system would be a two-step process involving the initial clearance by proper authorities at the mainland end (this could be either the local government or an SAR office in the locality) and thereafter inspection and admission by an SAR immigration inspector at the point of entry into Hong Kong.

The preliminary screening at the point of origin (on the mainland), before they get to the Hong Kong border would make sense. The SAR could set up a series of offices throughout the mainland, for the pre-screening purpose.

Pending the resolution of the 'crisis', I submit that both the SAR Government and the Legislative Council act together to introduce an effective immigration regime that would keep the problem under control, so that we can live with the consequence of what I think is a fair ruling by the Court of Final Appeal, which nevertheless opened the floodgates.

JAMES C. HSING Head of Politics Department Lingnan College Professor of International Law, New York University