Hole in Hong Kong's population figures revealed

Government admits it cannot say how many foreigners and mainlanders live in the city, leading to calls for overhaul of data collection

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 February, 2013, 11:09am

Pressure over Hong Kong's population policies increased yesterday after the government admitted it had no idea how many foreigners and mainlanders lived in the city.

Critics said the lack of figures was another indication of the government's inability to get to grips with the issue.

They said a total overhaul of the system for collecting data was needed if the city was to address the problems of its ageing population and declining birth rate.

The Post inquired about the number of non-locals living in the city after Singapore - seen as the city's main rival in Asia - set out a road map for its population polices on Tuesday based on a huge rise in immigration.

None of the Hong Kong government departments handling immigration and statistics - the Security Bureau, the Immigration Department and the Census and Statistics Department - was able to provide a reliable figure.

Neither did they know how many foreigners had left after obtaining permanent residency.

It means the government does not know the demographics of who really lives here, who contributes to the economy and who requires local resources.

Paul Yip Siu-fai, a demographics expert at the University of Hong Kong - and a member of the government's steering committee on population policy - said immigration data was vital.

"It is important to know if they are part of the workforce and what sectors they are working for when analysing the supply of manpower and the demand for extra infrastructure," he said. "We should let the figures speak for themselves. We don't even have reliable and updated figures for policy-making. We are lagging far behind Singapore."

Another committee member, Chinese University demographics expert Shen Jianfa, hoped the government would provide information that would help them construct polices.

Asked by the Post, the Census and Statistics Department said it did not track the number of immigrants. And the Immigration Department gave a figure for foreign residents - but it does not include mainland immigrants and foreigners who have become permanent residents. The figure of 603,229 at the end of December included a large proportion of domestic helpers.

The figure fluctuated over the past year by as much as 53,000 a month, with the department counting only those physically present in the city on the last day of each month. It is not known how many of those 603,229 foreigners are still in the city.

The Security Bureau had a figure for how many immigrants had entered Hong Kong last year, including mainlanders and overseas professionals on work permits, and had similar figures for previous years. But it could not say how many had left each year.

According to the bureau, 102,234 immigrants entered last year, a 21 per cent rise on 2010.

Singapore's proposed policies could see foreigners making up nearly half of its population by 2030. It plans to allow in between 15,000 and 25,000 new citizens a year along with 30,000 permanent residents.