Airport hurdles help Britons hang on to residency status

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 August, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 August, 1994, 12:00am

THE thorny issue of the airport talks has saved the day for British expatriates threatened with losing their special immigration status.

Moves to strip them of their privileges have been delayed by the negotiations, making it likely that Britons will continue to be automatically granted work and residency permits until 1997.

Unlike citizens of other countries, the British have the right to live, work and study in Hong Kong without having to specially apply for permits from the Government.

On arrival in the territory, they get automatic right of residency for a year, renewable on each entry. Those from other countries have to make a special application.

The Assistant Secretary for Security, Ingrid Ho Poi-yan, said last week there had been plans to take away this privilege as early as this year, but these had been delayed by the slow progress of Sino-British negotiations.

''We have not yet got round to discussing this . . . we might just let the privileges lapse naturally on June 30, 1997,'' she said.

The question of whether to make the British line up with all other expatriates for their work permits has now been tied in with resolving the complicated issue of permanent residency status.

''We have not moved much further forward with the Joint Liaison Group (JLG) meetings on this topic,'' Ms Ho said.

''It is not that we have bad relations with the Chinese authorities on this - it is just that they have been so busy about the airport that some other issues have been ignored.'' Immigration is likely be discussed at next month's JLG meeting, but Ms Ho said it was now ''impossible'' for the Government to amend the Immigration Ordinance within the 1994-95 Legislative Council session to end Britons' special status.

''Legislative Council time slots are very precious; if we don't have a convenient time to alter the current provisions, then we will let them lapse naturally in 1997,'' she said.

If the Immigration Ordinance is changed, or when the Basic Law comes into effect on July 1, 1997, British citizens will have to apply for work or student visas before coming to Hong Kong if they are not visiting as tourists.

Britons already working in Hong Kong would theoretically only be able to stay in their jobs, or apply for new ones, if their employers could demonstrate they were the only persons they could find who were capable of doing the work.

News of the delay was welcomed by the British Chamber of Commerce, which has more than 300 member-companies in Hong Kong.

''It is definitely an advantage to most British businesses not to have to undergo strict immigration procedures before bringing in expatriate staff,'' said head of research at the British Chamber of Commerce, John McArdle.