A mainland couple who spent nearly seven months in jail so their children could go to school yesterday received what they said was the best possible Lunar New Year gift when told they could stay in Hong Kong as a family. The breakthrough came 14 months after Cheung Shun-ho, 50, and her husband, Tang Siu-kuen, 58 - who lived in Hong Kong illegally for 20 years - surrendered to the Immigration Department in November 2001 so their children could obtain residency and go to school. The couple were jailed for 10 months in June for using other people's identity cards but were released on December 31 after gaining a sentence reduction for good conduct. They then faced deportation and a second separation from their Hong Kong-born children. Their sentence was criticised as harsh, and community leaders and readers came forward with offers of help after their plight was highlighted in the South China Morning Post. The couple had been on bail since being released and yesterday the Immigration Department approved their stay on humanitarian grounds. The department also has allowed a teenage mainlander, Ah-man, who has been living alone after being abandoned by her adopted Hong Kong mother four years ago, to stay on discretionary grounds. The couple and Ah-man have been given temporary identity cards and will gain permanent residency in seven years. The couple said they were grateful for being spared removal to the mainland and the pain of separation from their eight-year-old twin sons and 19-year-old daughter. 'I would like to thank the Hong Kong government for giving us such a big present before the Lunar New Year. It will be a meaningful new year to us,' Ms Cheung said. 'I feel so relieved now. It is like having a boulder lifted that has been pressing down on my heart for the past 20 years. It has been a very heavy burden.' The couple sneaked into Hong Kong in 1982 after being made homeless during the Cultural Revolution. They said they were stranded in Hong Kong after their plan to go to Australia was foiled by a friend who cheated them out of their money. 'Without an identity, we didn't know where our home was. I'm glad to see our decades of miserable, nomadic life have come to an end. We now have a place where we belong,' Ms Cheung said. The first thing they wanted to do was find a job. Ms Cheung said her husband would resume his job as a Chinese medicine practitioner. The couple surrendered so their children could obtain residency under the Court of Final Appeal's judgment in July 2001 that children born in Hong Kong to non-permanent residents were entitled to right of abode. During the seven months in jail, the couple told their twin sons they were working in Beijing. 'They told me later that they missed me a lot. One said he often thought about my face because he was afraid he would one day forget how I look. His brother said he saw me in his dreams,' the mother said. Ms Cheung had taught the children at home until they were allowed to go to school last year. Ms Tang now attends evening school. 'My sons had only their parents and sister in their world with limited contacts with other people in the past. It was as if they were living in a vacuum. Now they are active like other children and tell me everything that happens to them at school.' She said their sacrifice was insignificant compared with the future of their children. 'We're old now but they still have a long road ahead,' she said. 'We will have to be responsible for their future.'