Skip to main content

Kong vs. Hong Kong 移民對居民

The Court of Final Appeal, the city’s highest court, handed down an unpopular judgment two weeks ago. Five justices unanimously ruled that the government’s seven-year residency requirement for welfare application is unconstitutional. In Hong Kong, “welfare” is formally known as Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA), which averages around HK$3,000 (less than US$400) per month per applicant. The meager assistance is meant to be a bare minimum to give the unemployed or the unemployable a subsistence living.

The court got it right this time

Reactions to the court’s landmark decision poured in almost immediately. Social advocacy groups hailed the ruling as a victory in welfare rights for not only the immigrant community but all of Hong Kong. The rest of the city was not as thrilled. Many Hong Kongers see the lowering of the residency threshold as a threat to their existence, their tax dollars now robbed by newcomers. Netizens on Facebook and Golden Forum (高登), an online chat room and a windsock of public opinion, once again evoked the “locust” metaphor and accused Mainlanders of leeching off our welfare net. The Liberal Party (自由黨), run by plutocrats who are pro-business and anti-social programs, was quick to stoke the fire and criticize the judges for legislating from the bench. There were even calls for a “legal interpretation” by Beijing to overturn the court ruling.

A few good men

The lawsuit against the government was filed by Yunming Kong (孔允明), a 56-year-old Mainland immigrant whose Hong Kong husband died the day after she arrived in the city. Soon thereafter, the Housing Authority repossessed her late husband’s public housing apartment. Homeless and jobless, Kong applied for CSSA but her application was denied because she failed the residency test.

Kong’s case is not atypical. Every year, tens of thousands of Hong Kong men cross the border in search of Mainland brides. Once married, the husbands will apply for immigration papers to have the wives join them in Hong Kong. Adult females now account for 65% of all new immigrants granted a “one-way permit” (單程證) to enter the city. For the most part, they depend on their local husbands until the latter either die or file for divorce. It’s not easy for widows and divorcées to find work in Hong Kong, especially since their Cantonese is limited and some have children to look after. Government assistance is often their only way out.

Claimant Kong Yunming, now 64

The Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, guarantees all residents, old and new, the right to social welfare. Article 36 stipulates that the access to government assistance be granted “in accordance with law.” The qualifier is broad and vague, and perhaps deliberately so, to give judges latitude to decide what is equitable. As is the case for many constitutional cases, the justices hearing Kong’s claim relied on the “proportionality test” to weigh the impact of a government policy on the claimant against the public interests it serves. In 2004, while the city was still reeling from the ravage of SARS, Tung Chee-Hwa’s government raised the CSSA application threshold from one year to seven years with the explicit policy goal to cut public spending. In determining whether the increased residency requirement should be struck down or at least reinstated to its pre-2004 level, the justices struck a balance between Kong’s survival and the long term sustainability of the welfare net. What ended up tipping the balance in favor of the claimant is that the policy change, by the government’s own admission, has yielded “insignificant” and “immaterial” savings in the past 10 years. On the other hand, its impact on welfare applicants like Kong is disproportionately great.

Protesters against the court ruling

Any law student can see that Kong Yunming vs. The Director of Social Welfare is a slam dunk, a no-brainer. The legal analysis becomes even clearer when Article 36 is read in conjunction with the rest of the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights. The only surprise is that the regressive policy change targeting a specific segment of society went unchallenged back in 2004.

But none of that matters to the local population, who tend to lose their sense of right and wrong whenever their financial interests are – or appear to be – at stake. We have seen that “us-versus-them” mentality earlier this year when the Court of Final Appeal denied domestic helpers the right to seek permanent residence. Whether it is a Philippine maid or Mainland immigrant, our xenophobia defies logic and facts. Government figures have shown that a vast majority (over 85%) of welfare applicants are native Hong Kongers and, far from lazy freeloaders, immigrants are known to work harder than their local counterparts when put on the same jobs.

 A meme portraying immigrants as leeches

Then there is the slippery slope argument. Many Hong Kongers fear that the recent court ruling would open the floodgates and lead to the easing of application criteria for much more scarce resources like public housing. That may well happen and it is a bridge we must cross when we get to it. After all, there is a price to pay for living in a democracy. Like it or not, when new arrivals settle in Hong Kong, the distinction between “us” and “them” falls away. If we are unhappy with an immigration policy which the city has no say in setting up or modifying, then by all means take it up with the Liaison Office or Beijing; but don’t take it out on those who enter the city legally and make them the scapegoats for our systemic failures. To argue otherwise is not only racist but also downright foolish. Then again, we witness this kind of foolishness every day when people blame traffic jams and overcrowded malls on Mainland tourists instead of our government’s border control. It’s time we stopped acting like fools.
________________________

This article was published on SCMP.com under Jason Y. Ng's column "As I See It."

As published on SCMP.com

Popular Posts

“As I See It” has moved to www.jasonyng.com/as-i-see-it

As I See It has a new look and a new home!! Please bookmark www.jasonyng.com/as-i-see-it for the latest articles and a better reading experience. Legacy articles will continue to be available on this page. Thank you for your support since 2008. www.jasonyng.com/as-i-see-it

From Street to Chic, Hong Kong’s many-colored food scene 由大排檔到高檔: 香港的多元飲食文化

Known around the world as a foodie’s paradise, Hong Kong has a bounty of restaurants to satisfy every craving. Whether you are hungry for a lobster roll, Tandoori chicken or Spanish tapas, the Fragrant Harbour is certain to spoil you for choice. The numbers are staggering. Openrice, the city’s leading food directory, has more than 25,000 listings—that’s one eatery for every 300 people and one of the highest restaurants-per-capita in the world. The number of Michelin -starred restaurants reached a high of 64 in 2015, a remarkable feat for a city that’s only a little over half the size of London. Amber and Otto e Mezzo occupied two of the five top spots in Asia according to The World’s Best Restaurants , serving up exquisite French and Italian fares that tantalise even the pickiest of taste buds. Dai pai dong is ever wallet-friendly While world class international cuisine is there for the taking, it is the local food scene in Hong Kong that steals the hearts of residents a

The Moonscape of Sexual Equality - Part 1 走在崎嶇的路上-上卷

There are things about America that boggle the mind: gun violence , healthcare costs and Donald Trump. But once in a while – not often, just once in a while – the country gets something so right and displays such courage that it reminds the rest of the world what an amazing place it truly is. What happened three days ago at the nation’s capital is shaping up to be one of those instances. From White to Rainbow Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 5-to-4 decision on same-sex marriage, the most important gay rights ruling in the country’s history. In Obergefell v. Hodges , Justice Kennedy wrote, “It would misunderstand [gay and lesbian couples] to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find fulfillment for themselves… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”  With those simple words, Justice Kennedy made ma

The City that Doesn’t Read 不看書的城市

The Hong Kong Book Fair is the city’s biggest literary event, drawing millions of visitors every July. The operative word in the preceding sentence is “visitors,” for many of them aren’t exactly readers. A good number show up to tsau yit lau (湊熱鬧) or literally, to go where the noise is. In recent years, the week-long event has taken on a theme park atmosphere. It is where bargain hunters fill up empty suitcases with discounted books, where young entrepreneurs wait all night for autographed copies only to resell them on eBay, and where barely legal – and barely dressed – teenage models promote their latest photo albums. And why not? Hong Kongers love a carnival. How many people visit a Chinese New Year flower market to actually buy flowers? Hong Kong Book Fair 2015 If books are nourishment for the soul, then the soul of our city must have gone on a diet. In Hong Kong, not enough of us read and we don’t read enough. That makes us an “aliterate” people: able to read bu

Brexit Lessons for Hong Kong 脫歐的教訓

It was an otherwise beautiful, balmy Friday in Hong Kong, if it weren’t for the cross-Channel divorce that put the world under a dark cloud of fright and disbelief. Asia was the first to be hit by the Brexit shock wave. BBC News declared victory for the Leave vote at roughly 11:45am Hong Kong time – hours before London opened – and sent regional stock markets into a tailspin. The shares of HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank, both listed on the Hong Kong Exchange, plunged 6.5 and 9.5 per cent, respectively... It ended in divorce ________________________ This article appeared in the 29 June 2016 print edition of the South China Morning Post . Read the rest of it on SCMP.com as " After Brexit, Hong Kong voters should take a careful look at what our own localist parties are really selling localist politics ." As published in the print edition of the South China Morning Post

The Beam in Our Eye 眼中的梁木

With 59 confirmed deaths and over 500 wounded, the Las Vegas mass shooting is the deadliest one in modern American history. Places like Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, Sandy Hook, Orlando—and now Sin City—are forever associated with carnage and death tolls.  They don't get it Not a week goes by in America without a horrific gun attack in a shopping mall, a school or a movie theatre.People outside the U.S. can’t fathom why the world’s wealthiest country can be in such denial over a simple fact: more guns means more gun-related deaths. But they don’t get it, don’t now? Instead, they tell us foreigners to stay out of the debate because we don’t understand what the Second Amendment means to the Land of the Free. So the anomaly continues: each time a shooting rampage shocks the nation, citizens respond with prayers and tributes for a while, but their lawmakers do nothing to change gun laws. And we—the foreigners—shake our heads in disbelief and wonder how many more innocen

A Farewell to Arms 永别了,武器

America is a bizarre country. To be an American — or to live in America — is to accept a few things that defy common sense. For starters, pizza is considered a “vegetable” under federal law. Two tablespoons of tomato paste on the dough is enough to make the pie healthy enough to be served at every public school cafeteria. Speaking of health, emergency rooms across the country routinely turn down trauma patients who fail to produce proof of health insurance. Facing skyrocketing healthcare costs , the uninsured are left for dead and the insured are worried sick about rising deductibles and annual premiums. Not bizarre enough? Here's another good one: gun shootings have become so commonplace that the evening news no longer reports them unless they are deemed a “shooting rampage.” And each time after a massacre, gun enthusiasts line up outside Wal-Mart to stock up on assault weapons for fear of tougher gun laws. That’s right, in America you can buy a military-style semi-automatic rifl

Dining Out... - Part 1 出街食-上卷

The Michelin Guide published its first Hong Kong/Macau edition in 2009. Since then, the little red book has sparked spirited debate and sometimes even nationalistic rumblings among citizens. Hong Kongers balk at the idea of a bunch of foreigners judging our food, when most of the undercover inspectors sent by the guide can’t tell a fish maw from a fish belly or know the first thing about dun (燉), mun (焖), zing (蒸), pou (泡) and zoek (灼) – to name but a few ways a Chinese chef may cook his ingredients with steam. For many of us, it seems far wiser to spend the HK$200 (that’s how much the guide costs) on a couple of hairy crabs currently in season than on a restaurant directory published by a tire manufacturer. The launch Food is a tricky business. It confounds even the most sophisticated of cultures and peoples. The English and the Germans, for instance, excel in everything else except for the one thing that matters most. Young nations like America, Australia and Canada..

The Art of Profanity 粗口藝術

We react to life’s little vicissitudes – nicking the car door, dropping the phone on a concrete pavement or losing hours of work to a computer crash – with a curse word or two. If some brute walks by and knocks the coffee right out of our hand, the appropriate response is: What the fuck?  Swearing is one of those things that we do everyday and nearly everywhere. But like breaking wind and picking our nose, profanity is only bad when someone else does it. Most of us are too squeamish or sanctimonious to own up to it. Rarely in the human experience has something so universally shared been so vehemently condemned and denied. Turning society into a nanny state Profanity exists in every culture. Curse words are the first vocabulary we learn in a foreign language and the only one we remember years later. The linguistic phenomenon can be traced as far back as Ancient Egypt and Babylon. Literary giants like William Shakespeare, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw were known to u