Hong Kong petition for same-sex spousal visas finds few signatories among banks

Opening a can of worms regarding court cases, flood of future such petitions, and not wanting to be anti-government among reasons cited

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 October, 2016, 3:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 2:31pm

A petition letter urging the government to amend Hong Kong's immigration policy to recognise spousal visas for same-sex couples has found few signatories among Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan and nine other investment banks, despite having garnered 1,414 signatures from the public.

Only the Commonwealth Bank of Australia – out of the 13 investment banks invited – signed the letter, which was triggered by a court case last year.

Sources familiar with Goldman Sachs’ decision said it declined to sign the petition letter over fears of setting a precedent that would see individual court cases being influenced, and opening the door to a flood of other future petition campaigns.

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Fern Ngai, chief executive of Community Business, the non-profit group behind the campaign, said: “The petition, which was set up last year, is open to the public and we encouraged everyone to sign. In terms of why so few banks signed, it could be attributed to a number of  factors including having to go through internal legal and compliance approval processes, or that an online public petition may not be an appropriate channel for  advocating for change, for example, in government policies or for LGBT rights. Not signing the petition does not necessarily indicate lack of support.”

Community Business asked the banks to support the petition because the same banks last year had lobbied for and received awards from the non-profit group endorsing them as the city’s top employers supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusiveness in the workplace.

Other banks that were named top LGBT employers last year, but which hadn't signed the new petition, included Morgan Stanley, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Standard Chartered, Barclays Capital, Nomura, ANZ, UBS and Credit Suisse.

HSBC spokesman Gareth Hewett said the bank “prefers to work through other channels to support the LGBT community, using our senior leadership where appropriate and ensuring they are kept up to date with the latest developments”.

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Steven Victorin, global head of corporate banking subsidiaries at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said: “It is true in Hong Kong that a couple in a same-sex marriage doesn’t have the ability to secure visas for both individuals in the same way other married couples can.

“If you are looking at the fundamental rights of securing visas today, there are limitations that we look forward to working with the appropriate government agencies on. It’s going to take some time,”

He added that lobbying in Hong Kong for this is “not really something that’s being done in the community here”.

Community Business started the campaign in support of a woman identified only by her pseudonym “QT”, who took the Hong Kong government to court last year after the Immigration Department denied her same-sex spouse a dependent visa, even though the couple were legally married in a foreign country.

Her lawyers argued that the visa would have routinely been granted to a heterosexual couple.

QT lost the case in March but lodged an appeal which will be heard again in court next year. Her case has since inspired more suits by other couples in similar situations.

Ngai said her group received eight more enquiries relating to such cases.

 

This article was amended to correct the headline and the comment attributed to Community Business.