A subtle change to immigration controls that radically interferes with the autonomy of Hong Kong has been introduced, the Court of Final Appeal heard yesterday. Denis Chang SC, on behalf of 17 migrants in the landmark right-of-abode case, said the change, if upheld by the court, would make the right to remain in the SAR subject to mainland laws for the first time. The alteration was not backed by either the Basic Law or the National People's Congress Standing Committee reinterpretation of abode laws in June, he said. Now the Government was asking the court to declare the change valid, in a move that would have far-reaching implications. 'Your Lordships are being asked to make a declaration which, in our submission, fundamentally affects the autonomy of Hong Kong,' Mr Chang said. 'This is of fundamental importance not so much to the decision in this case but to the sort of declaration the Government is seeking. The Government is seeking to make use of this case as a binding precedent for a lot of people.' The first sign of the change was in a notice gazetted by the Government in July setting out new procedures for mainlanders to apply for certificates of entitlement - essential to secure the right of abode. Mr Chang said previous regulations had required the claimants to have permission to leave the mainland, in accordance with Chinese law. The new procedures, however, require applicants to make an application 'for settlement' in Hong Kong, under mainland law. The change became clearer in the light of a government attempt to have the Court of Final Appeal declare that applicants must have approval from mainland authorities to 'enter or remain' in Hong Kong, Mr Chang said. He said the requirement to have mainland approval to remain in the SAR 'interferes substantially, radically, with the jurisdiction of the SAR . . . in the case of the Government you can see a subtle change from exit permit, one-way permit, to approval for settlement'. The Government is seeking to overturn a Court of Appeal ruling which quashed removal orders against the migrants. Those orders were made before the new procedures were introduced in July.