After 20 years in hiding, Mr Cheung gets his ID card

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 12:00am

A 52-year-old man who has lived illegally in Hong Kong for more than 20 years has been issued with an identity card and allowed to stay following a surprise government decision.

The man, who only wanted to be identified as Mr Cheung, said the granting of his residency came unexpectedly as his family was braced for him to be deported.

'It was a big surprise. I sometimes still ponder at night how amazing this has been,' Mr Cheung said.

His case contrasts with that of a mainland couple who also lived illegally in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and were jailed for 10 months in November 2001 after turning themselves in. They are now waiting for a decision from the Immigration Department.

The South China Morning Post first highlighted Mr Cheung's plight last April. He had applied for residency in 1979 but was excluded from an amnesty granted to illegal immigrants in 1980, when authorities announced the end of the 'touch-base' policy under which mainland migrants who made it into urban areas were allowed to remain.

He continued to reside illegally but surrendered and claimed right of abode in 2000. He was unable to benefit from the Court of Final Appeal's ruling on January 10 last year, when most of the 5,114 appellants lost their battle.

But Mr Cheung was told by the Immigration Department on November 28 that he would be granted an identity card. After seven more years he could obtain permanent residency.

'The officer said after considering which was the most appropriate place for me to reside, they decided to allow me to stay. He said my unhappy past should be forgotten. My feelings were beyond description,' he said.

Mr Cheung said he was then asked to wait for the department to contact him again to apply formally for an ID card.

The department finally called Mr Cheung on December 16, asking him to report back the following day and he was issued the ID card on Thursday last week.

'I checked my mail box several times a day. But there was no news for a long time. I started to worry that it might have all been just a dream,' he said.

Mr Cheung, who is married and has a 19-year-old daughter, said regaining an identity had not brought drastic changes to his life as he had been able to survive 'underground' for two decades thanks to his decoration business.

'When the economy was prosperous, my business was good even though I did not have an identity. I have an ID card now but I don't have any business as the economy is so bad,' Mr Cheung said. 'But I'm glad to see an end to all this. Had I not taken the first step to surrender, my problem could never have been resolved.'

With the ID card, Mr Cheung said he would be able to travel outside Hong Kong for the first time in more than 20 years.

The abode seeker first sneaked into Hong Kong via Macau in 1974 to join his father, a Hong Kong citizen. He applied for right of abode in 1979 under the 'touch-base' policy.

But his case was still unresolved in early 1981, by which stage the touch-base policy had been abolished. He was sent back to the mainland, but sneaked back later the same year.