GURKHAS have drawn the battle lines in their fight for permanent residency. Gurkha Ex-Servicemen's Association President Dipak Bahadur Gurung has written to Tung Chee-hwa asking that Gurkhas previously based here with the British Army be allowed to return to live in Hong Kong with their families. Work opportunities in their homeland, Nepal - the fourth-poorest country in the world - are scarce and competition is fierce. Mr Gurung, who flew into the SAR to plead his case, said the Gurkhas' role in upholding peace and security in Hong Kong during British rule should be acknowledged by issuing ID cards to those who served here longer than seven years. But immigration officers said few would qualify for Hong Kong residency, as most had spent long periods in Nepal since leaving the British Army. According to the Immigration Ordinance, applications must be made after a period of seven years' residence. Also, any applicant has to prove 'reasonable means of income to support himself and his family'. Tens of thousands of Gurkha soldiers were deployed intermittently in Hong Kong from 1948 until 1971, when three battalions were stationed here permanently. A fourth battalion was based here from 1982 until 1994 when it was disbanded and the last remaining battalion left just a few months before the handover. Marking the 'retreat' of the Gurkhas from Hong Kong in November 1996, former Governor Chris Patten told them: 'You can properly say you have been at the heart of Hong Kong's achievements, and it's right for Hong Kong to give you thanks.' Mr Gurung said he had been approached by many Gurkha ex-servicemen. 'I spent 15 years of my life here, but I don't qualify,' he said. 'Many members of my association want to come to Hong Kong. Some are as young as 40, some are over 60. 'Our case is that we have contributed a lot to the prosperity and development of Hong Kong. We protected the Hong Kong border for more than 27 years, which enabled Hong Kong to progress. 'The British authorities have indicated that they would be prepared to issue a certificate [stating the length of service in Hong Kong] from the soldiers' army records.' A spokesman for the Chief Executive's Office yesterday said: 'We have received the association's letter and we have sent it to the Director of Immigration for a reply.'