BRITAIN is understood to have bowed to Chinese pressure to accept July 1, 1997, as the cut-off for granting Hong Kong permanent residency to returning migrants. After years of tough negotiation, sources said the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group (JLG) had at last reached consensus on a date. The Hong Kong Government is believed to be ready to submit Immigration Ordinance amendments to the Legislative Council early next year. This is in sharp contrast to the British side's previous position that Hong Kong emigrants should be unconditionally offered permanent residency after 1997. The British maintained that the deadline suggested by the Preliminary Working Committee (PWC) had no legal basis. Even the pro-China Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) has been appealing to Beijing for a more lenient approach. Sources told the South China Morning Post the decision to accept the deadline had been tough for Britain and was made in the belief that China would never shift its position and would implement the deadline with or without consent. However, London hoped that by making this concession it could secure China's consent on other arrangements contained in a residency package aimed at enabling the return of emigrants. According to the sources, Chinese officials had indicated there would be more flexibility on the other elements of the pack-age. The JLG expert group would announce the package as soon as all of its details were final-ised. Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang indicated early in September that agreement on residency was expected in 'a few months'. It is envisaged that certificates will be issued to those granted permanent resident status under the new definition. And it has been suggested that a date a few months before the changeover be designated the technical cut-off to prevent Hong Kong suddenly being flooded with returnees. Emigrants who wanted to retain their permanent residency status would be able to return in an orderly manner on or before the technical date, said a source. A key provision, yet to be finalised, was the period that returnees granted certificates would be allowed to spend away from Hong Kong after 1997. The British side is understood to have wanted a long absence to be acceptable, although it was also envisaged that certificate holders would have to prove they have substantial connections, such as family, in Hong Kong. If they were to be away for more than a year, they would be required to return at regular intervals for a short stay. It is understood Britain hopes Beijing will agree that those who fail to make it back before 1997 will be granted the right to land or stay in the territory, meaning they have multiple free entry after the changeover. Under existing legislation, a key difference between permanent residency and the right to land is the former's entitlement to voting rights. The right to land proposal is not expected to meet official resistance as the arrangement has been suggested by the PWC. According to the PWC's interpretation of the Basic Law, emigrants who miss the July 1 cut-off can only regain permanent residency by living in Hong Kong continuously for not less than seven years and by declaring the territory to be their permanent home. But latecomers would be ineligible to apply for a wide range of government jobs. According to the Basic Law, the Special Administrative Region government may only employ foreign nationals as advisers to government departments and non-permanent residents may only be employed to fill professional and technical government posts.