An Exco member has warned that a judgment allowing new immigrants to receive social welfare could lead to an influx of mainlanders coming into Hong Kong to claim benefits, and increase hostility towards immigrants.
Legislator Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the Court of Final Appeal’s ruling on Tuesday that declared it unconstitutional to deny new immigrants Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) benefits could deepen the cross-border conflict between Hongkongers and mainlanders.
“The judgment has a huge impact on local social policies,” said the former secretary for Security Bureau on a radio programme on Wednesday morning.
Ip said the reports on the new judgment were now circulating on the mainland and she worried that middlemen agencies could emerge to exploit the situation.
“More mainland girls may marry old men in Hong Kong and come here on the one-way permit, [they can] divorce after a year and claim CSSA,” she warned.
“This may excite more Hongkongers to oppose the one-way permit system.”
However Nelson Chow Wing-sun, professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong, said the impact of new immigrants receiving public benefits should not be exaggerated.
Only less than 10 per cent of mainland new immigrants claim CSSA, he said, though the figure is slightly higher than that for locals.
“Not all new immigrants come to Hong Kong for social welfare benefits,” Chow said on a radio programme on Wednesday. “If they are coming to the city to live permanently and to contribute, it is worth increasing our expenditure [to provide benefits for them].”
He believed it was “unavoidable” that more judicial reviews could arise to challenge other public social welfare rules that currently exclude new immigrants who have not lived in the city for at least seven years.
Other welfare benefits such as fruit money, Old Age Living Allowance, public housing rent benefits and disability allowance - which are only available to permanent residents - could be subject to legal challenge if the government did not relax the seven-year restriction, he said.
Ho Hei-wah, director of the Society for Community Organisation, disagreed. He believes the judgment would only be relevant to the application of CSSA as it is considered a “basic need” under Basic Law.
Society currently has no plan to challenge the government on other on public welfare restrictions such as public housing benefits, he said.
On Tuesday, the top court ruled that the seven-year residency rule breached Article 36 of the Basic Law, which says every citizen has a right to social welfare benefits under the CSSA scheme.
The policy conflicted with the one-way permit policy designed to promote family reunions in Hong Kong and the population policy aimed at rejuvenating the ageing population, the court said.