Fixing a broken asylum system is the real solution to overstayers
Entry restrictions on Indian nationals visiting Hong Kong may be a short-term fix, but doesn’t address the fundamental problem
An Indian community leader’s sympathetic understanding of new entry conditions for compatriots reflects the city’s problem with economic migrants. From early next year, under measures detailed by the Security Bureau in a Legislative Council paper, Indian nationals will need prior approval from immigration authorities before they can enter the city visa-free. This is because they account for nearly 20 per cent of the backlog of more than 10,600 applicants for refugee status, as a result of having entered illegally or overstayed. One third were visitors permitted to stay visa-free for up to 14 days.
Former Indian Association of Hong Kong president Mohan Chugani says the new measures are a step towards a solution for the time being to the problem of illegal migrants that will also restore the reputation of Indian nationals. Hong Kong was not equipped to handle “that many refugees who abuse the system”, he said. A government source said pre-arrival registration would in most cases be granted quickly after checks on travel plans. This is preferable to lengthy questioning and body searches aimed at stemming the flow of fake asylum seekers trying to live and work illegally here in jobs organised by black market labour rackets.
That said, more than 500,000 Indians visit each year for business or leisure, representing a huge tourism growth market. Understandably the local Indian community has questioned the fairness of being singled out for conditions on visa-free access. They are right to say that fixing a broken system for dealing with asylum seekers would be a more effective solution.
Hopefully a review targeted at overstayers will cut the incidence of abuse and lead to quicker handling of genuine cases.