Gay partners given 'relationship visa'

Hong Kong is quietly handing out visas which allow the partners of gay professionals to live in the city long-term despite officially not recognising same-sex relationships.

The visa - known as an extended visitor's visa or de facto relationship visa - allows the partners of homosexuals who have a work visa to stay as long as they remain in the relationship. However, it does not give the same rights to homosexual married couples as heterosexual ones, which critics say will hurt Hong Kong's commercial competitiveness.

Inquiries by the Sunday Morning Post reveal that many couples have extended the visa several times, without needing to take a trip out of Hong Kong to renew their stay. However, successful applicants live the life of a permanent tourist; gay partners may not work, do not get an ID card or qualify for permanent residency after seven years. The visa must be renewed at least every six months.

Among immigration consultants, gay rights advocates and lawyers its existence is common knowledge. An Immigration Department spokesman said policy for dependants was based on 'the concept of a married couple consisting of one male and one female' but that 'the director may consider exercising discretion on an exceptional basis'.

Roddy Shaw Kwok-wah, an immigration consultant and chairperson of NGO Civil Rights for Sexual Diversities, said the reason for the apparent contradiction was clear: business talent. 'Because civil partnership regimes are blossoming all over the world, Hong Kong felt bound to look at the possibility of allowing foreign spouses of gay professionals in order to attract more talent. The solution they found was the prolonged visitor's visa,' he said.

Human rights lawyer Michael Vidler said: 'CEOs of major publicly listed companies were bringing over their gay partners and the government really couldn't say no because that would have been a major problem. Banks approach their recruitment from the perspective of talent, not sexual orientation. Their whole agenda is to get the best; if the best happens to be gay, then who cares?'

An internal study by Goldman Sachs found that more than five per cent of its 1,000-strong workforce in Hong Kong identified themselves as either lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Asked whether the lack of recognition of homosexual marriage was affecting its ability to attract talent, Goldman Sachs head of diversity, Asia, Stephen Golden, said: 'Hong Kong will need to consider these issues as it looks at ways to strengthen its lead as a regional hub and global financial centre.'