HK-born to Indian parents, but Vehka is now Chinese
In what is being hailed as a breakthrough for the rights of ethnic minorities, an Indian girl has been granted Chinese nationality and a Hong Kong SAR passport.
The government denies any change in policy but politicians and sources in the Indian community said there had been an obvious softening of criteria and change in approach to the Chinese nationality law.
Vehka Harjani, 15, who was born in Hong Kong, is the first known case of a person from an ethnic minority with no Chinese relatives being granted an SAR passport.
Her father, Vijay Harjani, said an Immigration Department officer had initially refused to provide him with an application form because his daughter had no ethnic Chinese background.
Mr Harjani claimed racial discrimination, citing the case of Mike Rowse, the head of InvestHK who was naturalised as a Chinese last year. He eventually spoke to a senior officer who accepted the application. Eight months later, in mid-August, Vehka got her passport.
Since 1997, several applications from ethnic minorities have been rejected because of lack of Chinese descent or relatives.
Raj Sital, the Indian Chamber of Commerce chairman, said: 'In my opinion, there has been a slight softening of criteria.'
The Immigration Department maintains it has always been possible for foreign nationals of non-Chinese ethnicity who are permanent residents to obtain SAR passports if they are naturalised as Chinese nationals.
One criteria for naturalisation is that the applicant has a near relative who is a Chinese national, according to Article 7 of the Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China. Mr Rowse is married to a Chinese woman.
It is this criterion that people from ethnic minorities were told rendered them ineligible. But in Vehka's case, the officer said it was one of the requirements, not the only one.
A diplomatic source said there had been a change in thinking or implementation of the law, adding that every law had a discretionary clause.
The nationality law also provides for 'other legitimate reasons' as a condition for naturalisation.
Other criteria are whether applicants have right of abode in Hong Kong, that the principal members of their families are in Hong Kong, income, tax status, character, knowledge of the Chinese language and an intention to remain here.
Democratic Party legislator James To Kun-sun, who worked closely with ethnic minorities in their fight for British passports before the handover, said the case was a precedent and a vote of confidence in China and the SAR government.
Mr To said: 'This is of course a very positive move . . . being a great nation, the Chinese government must feel very proud to have people of different races apply for Chinese nationality.'