A new immigrant who was denied her application for social assistance challenged the Social Welfare Department's "unfair" policy in the top court yesterday.
Hong Yun-ming, who failed to obtain social assistance because she had not lived in Hong Kong for seven years, said the policy was unconstitutional as it deprived newcomers of their right to receive the benefit.
Hong had in December 2005 been granted a one-way permit to reunite with her husband in Hong Kong, but he died of a long-term illness a day after she arrived in the city.
In 2006, she applied for the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), but her application was rejected because of a policy that disqualified new immigrants who had not lived in the city for seven years from receiving the benefit.
In 2008, Hong applied for a judicial review on the grounds that the policy was unfair, but her application was rejected in both the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal. She made her final review bid in the Court of Final Appeal yesterday.
Barrister Johannes Chan SC, for Hong, said the Basic Law stated that "a Hong Kong resident shall have the right to social welfare in accordance with the law".
He argued that the Basic Law did not differentiate between a permanent and non-permanent resident. Hong, who had a Hong Kong identity card allowing her to work and enjoy many rights other Hong Kong people had, should also be allowed to enjoy the right to social welfare, he said.
The existing policy discriminated against new immigrants although many of them entered the labour market and contributed to the community after they arrived in the city, he said.
According to "official" statistics, Chan said, 12 per cent of new immigrants applied for the assistance in 1999. The proportion rose to 14.9 per cent in 2002.
Chan said that statistics showed 85 per cent of CSSA recipients were locals. There was no evidence of any significant increase of new immigrants applying for the benefit, he said.
The government previously told the court of a 2003 population report that stated that the growing proportion of immigrants would have a profound impact on Hong Kong's social and economic structure. Chan argued the numbers showed a different picture from the one the government had painted.
The hearing before Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li; Justice Roberto Ribeiro; Justice Robert Tang Ching, Justice Kemal Bokhary and Lord Phillips continues today.