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Hong Kong Opens Its Borders to Skilled Chinese Workers
Feb 23, 2003

The government of Hong Kong took a major step to liberalize immigration regulations and allow the entry of skilled workers and businesspeople from mainland China.

The measure follows a report unveiled last Wednesday recommending that mainland workers with a job offer be allowed to emigrate to Hong Kong without restrictions. The change answers calls from Hong Kong's business community, which has lobbied for years to be allowed to tap into talent on the mainland.

The policy shift illustrates one of the ways that economic hardship in Hong Kong is driving closer integration with mainland China, in spite of long-held prejudices against new Chinese immigrants by many of the city's residents. Fears that Hong Kong could be overrun by a wave of economic migrants from mainland China long has guided the city's restrictive immigration policy. Even tens of thousands of children and spouses of Hong Kong residents have found it nearly impossible to gain the rights to reside in the city. Hong Kong-based employers, despite the city's return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, find it easier to hire professionals from almost any other place in the world than China itself.

But with the city's economy limping along at just a fraction of its prehandover growth levels, Hong Kong leaders have determined that for the city's enterprises to remain competitive with those in China, they must be allowed to draw on China's growing pool of talented and cheap professionals in fields from accounting and banking to software design and engineering.

The new policy, widely expected to receive approval from the city's legislature, would go into effect in July. It also would offer residency to overseas investors who invest the equivalent of 6.5 million Hong Kong dollars (US$833,000) in Hong Kong. That policy wouldn't, however, apply to mainland Chinese, in part because China's currency isn't freely convertible into Hong Kong dollars.

The policy won't make it easier for mainland-born children and spouses of Hong Kong residents to move to Hong Kong. But nor does the policy make it more difficult, as many human-rights activists had feared. Instead, it leaves in place a daily quota of more than 100 people who may gain residency rights to join family members.

The recommendation of the task force also includes a less-popular provision. In an effort to address a yawning deficit, the government said it would impose a US$50 levy each month on the city's estimated 240,000 foreign maids, most of whom are from the Philippines. Although the maids' employers would pay the levy, the workers' minimum-monthly salary would be reduced by the same amount. Minimum pay for maids in Hong Kong is HK$3,670 a month, though many are illegally paid less.

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