Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Chinese language rule eased for more Hong Kong government jobs so ethnic minority individuals will qualify

Language requirement lowered for another 22 roles but welfare groups say non-Chinese permanent residents need better proficiency training from young to boost social mobility

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 March, 2018, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 March, 2018, 9:52am

Chinese language requirements for another 22 types of Hong Kong government jobs have been lowered to give ethnic minorities a better chance of qualifying for those positions, chief secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said on Sunday.

While this means 53 of the over 400 categories of civil service positions are now more accessible to non-Chinese permanent residents, welfare organisations said that to boost their career prospects in the long-term, ethnic minorities needed better language training from a young age.

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In the 2016 by-census, excluding foreign domestic helpers, about 3.8 per cent of the city’s population or 254,700 people were classified as ethnic minorities. Many struggle with language proficiency – they may speak Cantonese but cannot read or write traditional Chinese characters – and this affects their ability to go to university and get a job.

In a blog post published on Sunday, Cheung gave examples of how the language requirement had been eased. Positions such as analyst or programmer and treasury accountant would require only the minimum passing grade of Level 1 in the recruitment exam, instead of the higher Level 2 grade. 

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Fourteen types of jobs involving technical or operational duties such as laboratory attendant in the Government Laboratory, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, would have the proficiency requirement lowered from Secondary 3 level to Primary 6 level. 

But for specific jobs – such as chainman in the Civil Engineering and Development Department and the Housing Department – applicants only needed to be able to write simple Chinese.

“The government has all along been encouraging and helping ethnic minorities who have chosen to stay in Hong Kong to integrate into society and be a member of our big family,” Cheung said in the post. 

“That said, some of them have encountered difficulties in adaptation and social integration owing to language barriers and cultural differences.”

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There have been consistent calls for the government to devote more attention to helping ethnic minorities, especially after a recent report showed that about one in seven of them were living below the poverty line, even after receiving handouts.

In his budget speech last month, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said HK$500 million had been set aside to support ethnic minorities. Cheung said he would set up and chair a steering committee to coordinate, review and monitor work in this area.

Phyllis Cheung Fung-mei, executive director of Hong Kong Unison, which advocates for ethnic minority rights, said she welcomed the government’s move but worried that many non-Chinese graduates would still fail the recruitment proficiency tests.

Given their struggle with the language, teachers often devise a simplified curriculum for ethnic minorities in local schools, resulting in them rarely being able to match the standards of their Chinese peers. 

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Phyllis Cheung said that at least 70 per cent of ethnic minority pupils took the simpler Chinese language test under the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examination, but this meant they only had the equivalent of a Primary 3 pupil’s command of the language.

However, their local Chinese peers would take the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) version of the exam, which is known to be difficult even for native speakers.

Phyllis Cheung said: “There isn’t an evaluation system designed for ethnic minority pupils in learning Chinese as a second language, so teachers in secondary schools do not know how much to teach them. Very often, secondary schools just repeat what these pupils learned in primary school.”

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Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung called on the government to design a curriculum and qualification system for ethnic minority pupils learning Chinese as a second language. He also urged the government to lower language requirements for more government positions, especially those in the medical, housing, education and law enforcement sectors.

But Li Kwai-yin, president of the Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants’ Association, said the government should provide Chinese language training for ethnic minorities after they were recruited.

Many frontline civil servant still needed to communicate with locals every day and a lack of proficiency would lead to misunderstandings and an inability to respond to the public, she said.