ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Unease over low-skilled mainland migrants in HK
Publication Date : 22-03-2013
At least one in 10 Hong Kongers now are new migrants from mainland China, many of whom have low skills.
This is creating unease in a city where snagging a public flat entails a wait of at least three years, and unhappiness with mainlanders - often perceived as outsiders ignorant of local social norms - has reached a high.
The percolating tensions point to a need for urgent and multi-pronged action by the government, experts say, ahead of a discussion on a population paper in the Legislative Council today.
The government has to "learn from the experience of Singapore", which has just undergone a bruising population debate, says demographer Paul Yip. It should negotiate with mainland authorities to regulate the inflow of less-skilled migrants according to the city's infrastructural capacity, suggests sociologist Alfred Chan.
At the same time, adds Professor Yip, Hong Kong with its ageing workforce should ramp up efforts to bring in those who are more qualified.
Both academics sit on a steering committee on population - headed by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam - which produced the paper.
Acting Secretary for Security John Lee Ka Chiu revealed on Wednesday that about 762,000 mainlanders settled in Hong Kong between 1997, when the city was returned to Chinese rule, and the end of last year.
They are here under the one-way permit (OWP) scheme that allows a daily quota of 150 mainlanders to join their families here.
This number excludes those with tertiary degrees who attained residency under the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme or those with at least HK$10 million (US$1.29 million) to invest who settled here under the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme. Figures for the two schemes are not available but number in the thousands, says Prof Yip.
Of the OWP group, half came here to be reunited with their spouses and half with their parents. Together, they make up 60 per cent of Hong Kong's population growth in the past 15 years, says Prof Yip. The city now has 7.2 million people.
The inflow has raised concerns that many of the newcomers have no or low skills. Most are women from the countryside whose Hong Kong husbands are blue-collar workers.
Many do not speak Cantonese, the city's lingua franca, do not work, and suffer from depression, says Miranda Ng of International Social Service, a non-governmental group that provides aid. "They don't know anything actually - how to pay the bills, where to buy groceries."
Meanwhile, Hong Kongers chafe at the influx of these migrants who, they feel, compete with them for public housing, social welfare aid and school places, while flouting local social norms and laws.
What the government could do, says Professor Chan, is establish a holistic programme to help them integrate into society. Such a scheme is currently unavailable.
It could also work with Beijing, which administers the OWP scheme and decides who comes here, and when. Over the years, it has been relaxing the rules, such as allowing the spouse to bring more than one child.
"If Hong Kong got more involved, we could provide input on the number and the timeline, depending on our resources. We could even provide advance briefings to those we know are coming over, so we prepare them better," says Prof Chan.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong should streamline its professional regulations to better tap the migrants' skills, says Prof Yip. In recent years, there have been more skilled OWP migrants who married Hong Kongers working in the mainland.
"Many are teachers or professionals, who are qualified in the mainland. But they cannot work here because their qualifications are not fully recognised," he says. "We are not making good use of this human capital."
Low birth rates and longer lifespans herald a looming demographic challenge for the city. By 2041, there will be 1.8 adults supporting an elderly person aged 65 and above, down from 5.3 in 2011.
A public engagement exercise will be launched in September to gauge public views on policy directions.