Residency laws are criticised as unfair

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 March, 2003, 12:00am

Human rights advocates complain that inconsistently applied immigration rulings are tearing many families apart

Human rights advocates and lawyers say families are being torn apart by unfair immigration rulings which dictate whether or not the spouse of a permanent resident is allowed to stay in Hong Kong.

They say some genuine spouses are being denied their Basic Law right to be reunited with their families because the immigration director deems them 'economic migrants' who would compete in the local labour market.

Others were not granted dependant's visas because the director was not satisfied that their spouses in Hong Kong were capable of supporting them to a 'standard well above subsistence level' and providing suitable accommodation, they said.

Human rights lawyer Mark Daly accused the government of depriving permanent residents of their constitutional right to raise a family. 'The family reunion factor should be a strong factor in the balance,' Mr Daly said.

He added that the director had to have 'very, very strong reasons' for denying them. 'I think it should be the norm that a spouse can come,' he said.

The concerns follow a ruling last month by the Court of Final Appeal that immigration officers' discretionary power to bar applications was unlawful.

Under immigration policy, spouses, unmarried dependent children under 21 and parents over 50 of a Hong Kong resident may be allowed to come to the Special Administrative Region to remain as a dependant if the director is satisfied the sponsor is able to support the dependant with a reasonable living standard and provide suitable accommodation. Once granted a dependant's visa, a person may work in Hong Kong.

An Immigration Department spokesman said the policy provided for family reunions and, in the year 2000-01, 14,000 dependant visas were issued.

Last year, about 13,300 foreign dependants were given approval to live in Hong Kong, but about 1,200 dependant's applications were refused as they did not meet the criteria. It is not known which nationalities were affected.

But Mr Daly criticised the policy for its lack of transparency, saying no written guidelines existed in the Immigration Ordinance to spell out the criteria for obtaining a dependant's visa. The decision was solely at the director's discretion and the process was open to abuse, he said.

Human Rights Monitor secretary Aaron Nattrass echoed calls for a written policy to assist family reunions. He said the present policy was absurd as it excluded anyone who intended to work and support their family, while welcoming those who made no contribution.

He said the policy was not applied consistently because many expatriates from European countries or the United States were not asked whether they intended to work in Hong Kong.

An Immigration Department spokesman denied that the policy was unfairly or inconsistently applied.