Number of people granted permanent residency versus the total number of applicants approved via different schemes seven years earlier
Though the composition of immigrants has evolved as their family, education and economic backgrounds have diversified over the past 20 years, the image of new immigrants lags behind.” Susanne Choi Yuk-ping, professor at the Department of Sociology, Chinese University of Hong Kong Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals (ASMTP)
Immigration Arrangements for Non-local Graduates (IANG) Quality Migrant Admission Scheme 693 905 1,643 N/A 49.3% N/A 62.5% 6,075 6,744 11.4% 13.4%
Maple Ma made a decision to let the thing that had once seemed so desirable go — after she had already spent about seven years pursuing it. That thing was permanent residency in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. While it would seem unwise — even crazy — to many people to pass up the opportunity to get permanent residency in the city after so much effort, for Ma the decision was long overdue.
By 2016, she had been staying in the city for seven years. She still remembered her initial motive for coming to the SAR — a master’s degree in law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). That was in 2008. Back then, she didn’t want to dive right into the job market in her home city after finishing her bachelor’s degree — even if that city was one as full of opportunities and attractions as Shanghai.
Instead, when she learned of CUHK’s one-year taught master’s degree program that guarantees a year’s unconditional stay to look for a job after graduation, she came to Hong Kong.
For the first few years in the city, Ma tried hard to blend in with the Cantonese-speaking society, the hustle and bustle of the streets, the always crowded restaurants — even those offering simple daily noodles — and the high-end business districts with their diverse faces.
However, before long her cramped living conditions spurred her to take residence across the boundar y while staying in the city for work. Until 2009 she had lived in the living room of a flat less than 400 square feet in a walk-up building near the university — with two roommates taking up the two bedrooms. It was the kind of common shackup often undertaken by nonlocal students seeking to pursue their higher education in “Asia’s World City”. The final straw came when Ma saw a rat running through the living room while she tried to sleep on the shabby bed.
Ma joined the 44,600-strong force that commutes crossboundary to work every day, according to a 2010 survey by the Planning Department of the HKSAR Government. That number has gone up by six times compared with the 7,500 cross-boundary commuters in 1999.
Resolving to move to Shenzhen and commute to the Hong Kong Island to work was a physical departure that eventually made her decision to uproot her entire life to Shenzhen much easier.
But what prompted her final departure was the realization that finding a soul mate in this capitalistic city was unrealistic and remote, mostly due to the culture gap between Ma and both the Hong Kong and foreign men she had met over the years.
Like thousands of others, for years Ma’s work and life had been separated by a weaving trek through two cities. On the almost two-hour commute, she had her phone to kill the dull and tedious journey. She would take the train from the Lo Wu checkpoint to the Hung Hom terminal. There, she would transfer to a bus for another 30 minutes — sometimes longer due to the near-constant congestion of the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, the city’s busiest.
By this time, she had been hired by a Hong Kong company to conduct business on the mainland.
New people, old image
In fact, mainland talents like Ma make up a considerable chunk of new immigrants. With their higher standard of education, economic and family backgrounds, these mainland high-end talents arrive through four schemes — the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals (ASMTP), the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme, Entry for Study in Hong Kong and the Immigration Arrangements for Non-local Graduates (IANG).
Last year alone, 18,887 mainland students came to the city to study. After obtaining their degree, usually they will be granted a one-year unconditional stay under IANG. In the same year, a total of 8,611 graduates were able to stay in the city via this arrangement. Since 2008 when IANG was
The results of the Hong Kong 2016 Population By-census revealed that the number of Hong Kong residents born in the Chinese mainland, Macao and Taiwan fell by 26,663 to around 31 percent of the entire population in 2016, which is 2.5 percent less than that of 2006. In the meantime, the number of Hong Kong residents born in foreign regions, over the same period, rose by 186,253 people to around 8.4 percent of the entire population last year — 2.2 percent more than that in 2006.
Between 2006 and last year, 390,651 new immigrants originating from the mainland, Macao and Taiwan came to live in the city, according to the government’s by-census. That was 20 percent less than the 500,133 given status as One-way Permit Holders concurrently.
Additionally, over the same decade at least 284,000 people came under the four major schemes, including 142,000 mainland students coming for study and another 84,000 coming under the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals (ASMTP), together with around 57,000 who were granted stay under the Immigration Arrangements for Non-local Graduates (IANG) program.
Simple math sheds light on how many have been leaving the city — nearly 50 percent.
Take the ASMTP scheme as an example, those who stayed for seven years and applied for permanent residency amounted to only slightly more than 10 percent of the original number of applicants seven years ago, on average. In 2016, 699 people became permanent residents via the scheme — far fewer than the 6,514 people granted stay in 2009.
Even for the popular IANG program, the brain drain continues apace. In 2015, 1,742 people were granted permanent residency — around 66 percent of the figure (2,785) in 2008.
Hong Kong appears to be experiencing the flight of too many young talents — surely a worrying sign amid the explosion of growth and regional competition across the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. Note: One needs to stay in Hong Kong for seven years before being granted permanent residency. N/A refers to the fact that there were no official record of the particular scheme in that year. introduced, Hong Kong has seen a total of around 55,000 mainland graduates granted the right to stay under IANG up until the end of last year.
Moreover, another 10,404 people from the mainland were granted permission to stay last year through the ASMTP.
Professor Susanne Choi Yukping at the Department of Sociology of CUHK said there has been a structural upheaval in new immigrants since China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997.
“For the past 20 years, marriage has been a major way for new immigrants to migrate. That gradually diversified and seeking better jobs and education have ballooned drastically and became another two major reasons for new immigrants to settle in the city,” Choi said.
Earlier in the 1990s, many Ho n g Ko n g m e n m a r r i e d women from the mainland and had children. The families of these Hong Kong men are entitled to come to the city under the One-way Permit, capped at 150 per day. Since 1998, a total of 885,689 people have come to the city in this way.
“The issue of new immigrants is in fact an issue of social stratum,” C hoi said, adding that most of the new immigrants coming to the city soon after Hong Kong’s return to the nation came from the grassroots and stayed in the lower-income bracket thereafter.
Choi, who has written extensively on issues such as migrant labor and cross-boundary marriage, was a new immigrant herself once, having migrated to the SAR with her family at the age of seven. The Fujianborn scholar, with per fec t Cantonese and professional achievements, is a poster girl for successful new immigrants who have blended in.
“Though the composition of immigrants has evolved a s t h e i r f a m i l y, e d u c at i o n and economic backgrounds have diversified over the past 20 years, the image of new immigrants lags behind,” Choi lamented.
The image of new immigrants doesn’t reflect the reality but rather a stereotype, Choi said, adding that new immigrants are prone to labels or public stigmatization if any- thing extraordinary or unfortunate happens to them.
Moreover, she feels the government has done too little to counteract the negative stereotypes. When formulating policies, she said, it hasn’t factored in the impact of new immigrants on the city’s existing grassroots citizens, whose lives will be more affected by new immigrants than those in other social strata. She said this is particularly true of planning in regard to the city’s wards and public medical facilities, where surges in new immigrants can undermine the interests of grassroots and the majority in using the public health services.
“Going back to Shenzhen is not a blind shot,” Ma said. “The timing is good — a good job offering better pay, on top of the preferable living condition and seamless cultural adaptation.
“Plus, I have been in Hong Kong for that many years and I have already experienced it.”
The benefits of mainland r e s i d e n c y, a l s o k n o w n a s hukou, have improved over the years. Moreover, mainland employers are now obligated to make contributions to the so-called “five social insurances and one housing fund” — forming a high-level safety net of medical insurance, endowment insurance, unemployment insurance, employment injury insurance and maternity insurance, and housing provident fund.
Apart from better maternity leave and even maternity allowance, Ma also has factored in the prospect of having a child in the future. If she had a child while still in the HKSAR, the child would later need to commute across the boundary from Shenzhen to study in Hong Kong, because he or she would hold a Hong Kong identity card. She said it would be unbearable to force a child to commute cross-boundary to study.
“Getting permanent residency in Hong Kong is like a chicken rib — a thing of little value but a pity to throw away,” Ma said.