Review of one-way permits required
With the number of mainlanders coming to Hong Kong reaching a 10-year high and a significant rise in the 45-54 age group, more should be known about the backgrounds of arrivals
For a population of over eight million people, a daily immigration quota of 150 may not seem too much of a burden. In the Hong Kong context, the perception can be somewhat different though. Over the past two decades, nearly one million mainlanders have settled here under the quota, fuelling calls for a review of the cap and the way it works from time to time.
Understandably, the so-called one-way permit scheme has become a cause of concern for locals, especially when the authorities here have no say about who can come. The lack of transparency over the background of the arrivals also makes informed judgment difficult, resulting in misunderstanding and prejudice. The growing cross-border political tension has inevitably fuelled more scepticism in recent years and does nothing for acceptance and integration.
Eyebrows were further raised when the government revealed that figures have reached a 10-year high. There were 57,387 new arrivals last year, or 157 a day on average. This is in stark contrast to the early years when some 80,000 quotas were unused. Also worthy of notice is a significant rise in the 45-54 age group, up from 1,991 in 2007 to 8,889.
The permit system has merits and drawbacks. During the initial years, it primarily assisted mainlanders married to Hong Kong spouses and children born to local parents, and therefore helped compensate for the city’s low birth rate and enhanced manpower supply. But it also created a burden on schools and other public services, particularly when some turned to the government for subsidised housing and welfare support. The surge in middle-age immigrants also has implications for our ageing population.
The Basic Law makes it clear that while entry and exit control is a matter for Hong Kong authorities, approval for mainlanders to come to the city rests with the mainland authorities. But given the scheme has been in place for two decades, there is probably room for improvement. One way is to provide more information on the backgrounds of arrivals. This helps the authorities to make better use of their skills and prepare for service demands that may arise.