A study of Hong Kong's immigration policy for Mainland Chinese
Chapter One Introduction
Hong Kong - An Immigrant City
Hong Kong is a major international city, a top-ten world trader, a regional financial center and a formidable service-provider at the gateway to Mainland China.1 As about half of its 6.9 million population are immigrants from the Mainland, it can be called an immigrant city.
With the British occupation of the territory from 1842, the colony has been home to immigrants from various parts of the world. But the bulk of them are Mainland Chinese who have been streaming in over half of the past century.
The influx from Mainland China was particularly noticeable after the Second World War. To avoid political turmoil in the Mainland, a large volume of Chinese residents fled to Hong Kong. Among them, a substantial number of entrepreneurs brought with them capital, experience and skills. They pioneered local manufacturing and textiles industries, and employed a large number of other migrants from the Mainland. The stable political environment and a fast growing economy attracted further immigration. These migrants became an important resource that helped place Hong Kong in the world map of manufacturing in the 1970s and the 1980s, and eventually a financial center as it is
Definition of Immigration
Before we proceed to examine Hong Kong's immigration policies for Mainland Chinese, it is necessary to explain a few terminologies that would be used throughout this paper.
"Migration" is defined in the Oxford Reference Dictionary as the action 'to leave one place and settle in another'; "immigration" is the action 'to come into a foreign country as a settler', and "emigration" as the action 'to leave one's own country to settle in another'.3 Marsella and Ring use the same connotation and add that the term "migrant" has no legal status.4 Thus many countries now use the terms "immigrant" or "emigrant" to define the people involved in the act of migration. The language of migration has also given rise to a number of qualifiers that precede the terms "immigrant" and "immigration", such as "forced vs voluntary immigration", "legal vs illegal immigrant", "temporary vs permanent immigrant".
The Push and Pull Theory of Migration
Human migration has existed since human existence. In historic times,
hunters, nomadic tribes, and farmers moved when the environment became no longer viable for their livelihood. Large international migration began in the 16th century during the age of European expansion. In the 19th and 20th centuries, industrialization and innovations in shipping and railways precipitated the growth of international migration.
Theories of migration evolved around the notion of seeking a better living. As a rational individual, the migrant looks for opportunities. When the migrant has discontent and adversity in the place of 'origin', there is a 'push' to look for a refuge elsewhere; when there is an opportunity of reward in another place, the 'pull' lures the migrant to move. This is the 'push and pull' model for migration.
Researchers in the field of migration generally agree that the reasons for migration include social reasons such as family reunion, political reasons such as ethnic conflicts or ideological differences, and more commonly, economic reasons such as the desire to improve one's well-being. Although the economic force has been predominant, the 'push and pull' drive is not limited to pure financial senses of the term. It also embraces monetary as well as non-monetary benefits. 'Betterment' is a case in point which can be applied in a social, cultural and political context, as in family reunion, and escape from persecution etc. As such,
migration is a means of human survival.
International migration can significantly affect a country or territory's development. Therefore, it is important for the government to formulate and implement effective immigration policies to address concerns associated with migration, such as demographic issues, unemployment, tax and fiscal implications, security, social integration, welfare, housing and education. Most immigration policies aim at regulating the size and composition of immigration in accordance with the overall state objective and political will.
Immigration Policies for Mainland Residents
Immigration control was almost non-existent in Hong Kong before the 1950s. Chinese from the Mainland were free to move into the territory.5 Since the 1950s, the economic disparity between the blooming British colony and the socialist Mainland China became one of the predominant forces that accounted for the incessant immigration from the hinterland. There was also the relative political stability of Hong Kong that attracted Chinese residents to flee the Mainland that was plagued with internal and external wars over the past century.
In this dissertation, I will study the evolution of Hong Kong's immigration policies for Mainland residents in two periods, namely, the
pre-reunification period and the period after reunification.
Between the Second World War and reunification, various forms of control were imposed to curb the influx of Mainlanders. There were immigration control ordinances and registration of persons requirements. Milestone policies included the Registration of Persons Ordinance of 1949 that provided for compulsory registration of all persons in the colony, and the issuance of identity cards to all registered persons. This system of control is still in force. Another milestone was the abolition of the 'reached base' policy whereby all illegal immigrants arrested would be repatriated; and the third milestone was the implementation of the One Way Permit system that imposed a daily quota on the number of Mainland Chinese to settle in Hong Kong. Some of these measures were effective in curbing the tide of migration while some were less successful.
To ensure a smooth transition to reunification, the Chinese Government and the British Government signed a Joint Declaration in 1984. Article 165 of the Joint Declaration specified that entry of Mainlanders from other parts of China should continue to be regulated in accordance with the previous practice. Accordingly, the Basic Law stipulates that entry of Mainland residents into the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region be subjected to approval, and that the Central People's Government determines the number of entrants. In addition, the
Basic Law also specifies who shall be 'permanent residents' having the right of abode in Hong Kong. These provisions have defined Hong Kong's immigration policy for Mainland Chinese to settle here after reunification.
Despite the intensification of economic, social and political relationship with Mainland China after reunification, the Hong Kong Government has been cautious about the number of Mainlanders entering under the One Way Permit Scheme, and the number of them having right of abode here. In 1999, it asked the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in Beijing to interpret the relevant provisions of the Basic Law to avoid the possibility of an estimated 1.6 million Mainlanders becoming eligible for right of abode and flocking to Hong Kong. Consequential litigations in Hong Kong courts are still going on up to the present day.
As regards policies for entry of Mainland Chinese for employment, investments, and visits, the Hong Kong Government has been responding to economic demands at different times. Recent examples are the very popular Individual Visits Scheme, the Importation of Labour Schemes and the various importation of talents and professional schemes.
There is also a tendency for the Hong Kong Government to adopt an integrated approach that relates immigration policies to other socio-economic
policies such as population, employment, and education, as evidenced in the setting up the Task Force on Population Policy chaired by the Chief Secretary for Administration in 2002. The Task Force report covered, among other areas, recommendations on immigration policies, especially on the composition of the One Way Permit quota and the importation of talents and professionals from the Mainland.
Some critics argue that Hong Kong immigration policies for Mainland Chinese are piecemeal, fragmented and passive, and there is no coordination with other policies. Some criticize the policies to be discriminatory towards the Chinese while others contend that they have been lenient. There are people who are dissatisfied that the daily quota of One Way Permits and the composition of Mainlanders coming to settle in Hong Kong are totally determined by the Mainland Government, and that the Hong Kong Government has no say but to take in what is arbitrarily mandated. In the ensuing chapters, I will assess the effectiveness of the major policies by examining their successes, failures, and some of the associated controversies.
A comparative analysis of immigration policies between Hong Kong
and Germany will be attempted in Chapter Five. East Germany was reunified with West Germany in 1990, after a separation of 45 years. The situation is similar to that of Hong Kong's reunification with Mainland China. The comparison, therefore, is to highlight the similarities and differences in immigration policies between the two governments, particularly in the acceptance of ethnically identical citizens as a result of reunification, so as to gain insight into the case of Hong Kong.
As a preview of the following chapters, my observations of Hong Kong's immigration policies towards Mainland Chinese are as follows. Firstly, the 'push and pull' model of migration fully explains the flow of Mainland Chinese to Hong Kong. In the earlier days, the 'push' was generated by the national wars and civil wars in China; and the 'pull' was the relative stability and economic opportunities in Hong Kong. Now that Mainland China has been enjoying a large degree of political and economic stability since the 1990s, the 'push' is less important. The 'pull', however, prevails as Hong Kong is still higher in terms of living standards and the degree of political freedom, and the social factor of family reunion has also set in.
Secondly, Hong Kong's close social, economic and political relationship with Mainland China has shaped its immigration policies towards the Mainland
Chinese. This renders the policies unique and distinct from those applicable to foreigners coming to Hong Kong.
Thirdly, the immigration policies and laws implemented and enacted between the Second World War and the year 1980 enjoyed success. It was successful in the sense that there had been leniency towards the Mainland Chinese, which ensured a continued supply of much needed labourers for the labour-intensive industrial development in the 1960s and 1970s. But as the structure of the Hong Kong economy gradually shifted to a service-oriented type of operation from the mid-1980s, there was a strong need to tighten control on immigration, especially on illegal immigrants.
Fourthly, admittedly, the policies towards Mainland Chinese used to be passive, piecemeal, fragmented and limited to a problem-specific perspective. The fact that the Mainland authorities determine the quota and number of Mainland Chinese entering under the One Way Permit Scheme also proves the weakness of the Hong Kong Government in determining the profile of its population.
Last but not least, the Hong Kong Government has now started to adopt a broader, more strategic and integrated approach in the formulation of its immigration policies, relating them to population and other socio-economic policies. It has also shown determination to be more responsive and proactive in
1 Timothy Tong, 'Hong Kong's Immigration Policy on Persons from Mainland China' in Immigration Law in Hong Kong: An Interdisciplinary Study, ed. Professor Johannes Chan, SC and Dr Bart Rwezaura (Hong Kong: Sweet and Maxwell Asia, 2004), p.59.
2 Census and Statistics Department, press release, 17 August 2004.
3 The Oxford Reference Dictionary, ed. Joyce M Hawkins (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).
4 Anthony J Marsella and Erin Ring, 'Human Migration and Immigration: An Overview' in Migration: Immigration and Emigration in International Perspective, ed. Leonore Loeb Adler and Uwe P Gielen (Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2003), p.ll.
5 Johannes Chan, SC, 'The Evolution of Immigration Law and Policies:
1842-2003 and Beyond' in Immigration Law in Hong Kong: An Interdisciplinary Study, ed. Professor Johannes Chan, SC and Dr Bart Rwezaura (Hong Kong: Sweet and Maxwell Asia, 2004), chapter One.
School:The University of Hong Kong
School Location:China - Hong Kong SAR
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Keywords:immigrants government policy china hong kong emigration and immigration
Date of Publication:01/01/2005