Immigration chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the 18-month grace period for returning emigrants to retain permanent residency was flexible and acceptable. She also backed the three-year limit on time spent outside Hong Kong. 'It has basically solved the problem of emigrants rushing to return to Hong Kong to retain their status,' she said yesterday. China's arrangements on right of abode were issued by the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office on Sunday night. Those opting for foreign nationality will be allowed to keep their status if they either return to the territory within 18 months of July 1 or have not been absent from the territory for more than 36 months before the day of return. A government source said the length of grace period and absence from the territory had been the most contentious outstanding issue in talks between China and Britain. 'We first proposed seven years. Since people have to reside for seven years to acquire permanent residency, we thought the same period should apply for the loss of it. 'The Preliminary Working Committee suggested one year. And later, the Preparatory Committee said it should be left to the SAR government. We said no, because those who might be affected needed to know.' The source said there was no international standard on the length of absence. Most of the countries have set two to three years. 'The present requirement of three years is acceptable,' said the source. Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong legislator Ip Kwok-him said the arrangement would ease pressure on returning emigrants. 'They don't need to hurry . . . the arrangement can give them greater degree of flexibility,' he said.