Migrant flood turns out a trickle
Confounding predictions that tens of thousands of grown-up mainland children would flood into Hong Kong to reunite with their parents thanks to an easing of the policy on right of abode, only 170 have been issued one-way permits in the programme's first two months.
Dozens of mainland children and their parents campaigned outside the Legco building yesterday, decrying the slow application process for those seeking to migrate.
Lawmakers wondered if the creeping pace was connected to possible corrupt practices within mainland authorities.
Hong Kong immigration officials said they had received no complaints of authorities seeking bribes. However, one applicant told the South China Morning Post that on the mainland she had been asked to pay 20,000 yuan (HK$24,000) to 25,000 yuan to 'speed up' the application process.
'If I don't apply through the back door, I really don't know how much longer I can wait,' said the woman, who used the pseudonym, May Li.
Under the policy announced on January 14, children of Hongkongers born on the mainland who were under 14 when their natural father or mother obtained a Hong Kong identity card before November 1, 2001, are eligible to apply for right of abode.
Li, 33, who lives in Shanwei, Guangdong, said she was happy to learn she could finally reunite with her aged parents in Hong Kong. But that elation turned to frustration when she did not have enough money to bribe the person in charge of approving applications in her city's public security bureau.
The application was supposed to be free of charge.
Li, whose family has been split since she was born, said she believed her application was now on hold. 'It's like I have lost my way in the sea, I don't know what to do now.'
Campaigners had earlier warned that the new policy would be open to abuse. Jackie Hung Ling-yu, project officer of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, who has been helping abode claimants for about 10 years, yesterday urged the Hong Kong government to do a better job of monitoring the situation on the mainland.
'The parents of some applicants have died while they waited for the right of abode,' she said. 'How much longer do they need to wait?'
At a Legco subcommittee meeting yesterday on the right-of-abode issue, lawmakers Peter Cheung Kwok-che and Cyd Ho Sau-lan each said they had heard graft complaints from abode applicants on the mainland. They criticised the government for its lack of transparency.
But Eric Tsang Kwok-wai, assistant director of the Immigration Department's visa and policies branch, said the application procedure on the mainland was very 'strict' in fighting corruption. 'The public security units play the role of gate-keeping at different levels, so we believe this can effectively reduce the [chance] of abuse,' he said. 'We have been keeping a close watch, together with the mainland authorities, on this issue.'
The government refused to provide total numbers of scheme applicants so far, saying applications were still being processed.