More than 1,400 new immigrants have applied for welfare in the three weeks since Hong Kong's top court overturned a rule restricting benefits to residents of at least seven years' standing.
Welfare experts said the number was fewer than expected and was now unlikely to increase significantly.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung told the Legislative Council that the government would handle the applications for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) as soon as possible. He said it was too early to know how much CSSA spending would need to increase.
Cheung noted that the education level and family income of new arrivals had increased significantly over the past decade.
The proportion attaining secondary education level or above had risen from 68 per cent in 2001 to 85 per cent in 2011. For post-secondary level, the proportion had increased from 6 per cent to 16 per cent.
The income of households with new immigrants had also increased by 20 per cent.
Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, a spokesman for the Society for Community Organisation which helped immigrant Kong Yunming in her court appeal that prompted the landmark judgment, said there had been fewer applicants than expected. However, he did not foresee the number rising significantly. "A person who is really in need will not wait a few months before applying, so the situation should be clear soon."
Chow, at the University of Hong Kong, agreed. "Those who are applying now are not people who have just arrived and come here for social welfare.
"And those who will be coming into the city in the next few years must have applied for the one-way [entry] permit a few years ago. When they applied, they would not have expected to receive CSSA."