(Summary Translation)

To: Members of the LegCo Panel on Security and LegCo Panel on Manpower
From: CHAN Yuen-han, LegCo Councillor
Date: 14 November, 1996

Is it fair to allow British citizens to take up employment in Hong Kong without an employment visa?

(I) Background

There have been major infrastructure programmes going on in Hong Kong over the past few years. Against this background, local workers should find ample job opportunities available. But on the contrary, local workers are plagued by prolonged unemployment or under-employment. This, in my opinion, is partly due to the fact that most of these job opportunities have been taken up by foreign workers coming into Hong Kong through "legal" and "illegal" channels.

As a matter of fact, foreign workers taking up employment in Hong Kong is not a new phenomenon. Common conception has it that most of these foreign workers are well-paid professionals at the management level who do not pose a great threat to the working class. But with the economic recession and the subsequently reduced job opportunities many Western countries experienced over the recent years, Hong Kong’s economy is comparably more robust and is thus more attractive. Foreign nationals are coming to work in Hong Kong through different channels, and as they are taking up more and more rank-and-file jobs, they are now posing a threat to local workers’ right to employment.

Among these foreign workers, those who come from U.K. deserves our special attention. According to Section 61(2) of the Immigration Ordinance, the Director of Immigration may grant exemption to British citizens in regard to the requirement of employment visa, meaning that British people have the privilege to come and work in Hong Kong visa-free. In 1991 there were 16 000 British citizens living in Hong Kong, but as at February 1996, the number reached 34 500, representing an increase rate of 116%. There is already a 40% increase this year when compared to the figures at the end of last year.

A story I read from a magazine recently described how two British engineering companies, after successfully bidding new airport projects in Hong Kong, wound up their major departments, packed and transferred all of their resources to the work site in Hong Kong. Those equipment include even desks, chairs, stationery and trash bins. And their entire army of staff are all transferred from their mother companies in Britain, too, including even tea ladies and cleaning ladies. The ease with which British workers can get employment in Hong Kong is due entirely to the visa-free policy applicable to the British people, and this constitutes a direct impact on local rank-and-file workers’ job opportunities. It is now high time to tackle such problems, and priority should be given to the abolition of this privilege given to the British.

(II) Follow-up Actions And Proposals

I raised this issue to the Legislative Council at the beginning of this year, and Members of this Council agreed that such privilege should be abolished. Officials at the Security Branch kept a stern stance at first, but with discussions gaining momentum in the community, and particularly with the support from members of the public as revealed in street-interviews we conducted, the Government seemed to back off a bit. But still the Government does not seem to feel any immediate urge to tackle the problem. Instead, it has resorted to excuses like putting off the issue until after 1997, or their having too many issues to be addressed and so on and so forth. Therefore, after consulting some related groups, I decided to put forth a Member’s Bill in an attempt to tackle this issue. My initial proposal is to introduce an amendment to Section 61 to the effect that when the Director of Immigration exercises the power given by Section 61(2) in allowing any person to enter Hong Kong without a visa, a condition of stay with the words "prohibited from employment in Hong Kong" should be specified, just like the conditions governing the entry of Hong Kong people into Britain. The amendment would provide for certain exemptions, which would be given to diplomats and Chinese nationals holding a single-entry permit etc..

(III) Conclusion

To conclude, we hope that by amending the ordinance, the privilege given to the British will be abolished so that British nationals and other nationals are treated the same when entering Hong Kong. We also hope that this will allow greater protection to local residents in regard to their right to employment.

Last Updated on 21 August 1998