Category Archives: Mobility, Migration and Hong Kong’s Demography

Reacting to the foreign influx

Reacting to the foreign influx

More people are crossing borders to live and work in another country. While they might help plug gaps in their host countries’ labour force, their presence in large numbers can also be a strain on public resources and trigger local resentment. Governments have responded in various ways, and some have cut back on rights for foreigners, as The Straits Times’ correspondents found.

By Li Xueying, The Straits Times, 2 Jun 2012

Subscribers of The Straits Times can view the original report in full at http://www.straitstimes.com/Insight/Story/STIStory_806422.html

BRITISH-BORN Alex Lombardo, 46, has called Kuala Lumpur his home for six years. He has long got the hang of local lingo like ‘alamak’, mastered fiery sambal belachan and last year, settled down with his Malaysian wife, a freelance writer.

But when the couple went shopping for an apartment, Mr Lombardo, who is also a writer, found that he would have to hew to a new restriction: Like all foreigners, he can buy only more expensive property valued at at least RM500,000 (S$205,000) – up from RM250,000 two years ago.

….

Across the Causeway, something similar is brewing. Over the past year, Singapore has been sharpening the distinctions between citizens, permanent residents (PRs) and non-resident foreigners, in response to growing disgruntlement among Singaporeans over the influx of foreigners.

In recent months, this stance has extended from education (priority will be given to Singaporean pupils enrolling in Primary 1) to entry to tourist attractions (Singaporeans will pay $20 to enter the new Gardens by the Bay; foreigners $28).

Across the world, other governments are taking steps in the same direction.

In Australia, for instance, non-citizens have seen their entitlements, particularly access to health benefits and social security, shrink. From the late 1990s, PRs have had to wait two years before they can claim unemployment benefits. There is also a 10-year wait for disability handouts.

Globally, more people are crossing borders – an estimated one in every 35 people at the beginning of the 21st century was an international migrant. At play are two factors: globalisation, propelling labour to follow the flow of capital and goods; and demographics, which has forced countries with ageing labour forces to open their doors to foreigners.

But this also has domestic populaces baulking at the increased strain that public resources are coming under. In Britain, for instance, public housing is open to all, including foreigners. There are no restrictions, so long as they fulfil needs-based criteria such as low income levels, and are legally settled.

But with five million people on the waiting list, the scheme is now under debate, with Mr Frank Field, a senior MP from the opposition Labour Party, preparing to table a Bill that gives priority to citizens.

Hong Kong has also seen a reversal in a specific area in recent weeks following the election of Chief Executive-elect Leung Chun Ying. Traditionally liberal in extending public services to foreigners, whether PRs or non-PRs, Hong Kong – bowing to public pressure – will next year ban mainland Chinese mothers from giving birth there unless they are married to a local.

Currently, they are entitled to do so, with their babies reaping benefits such as permanent residency, subsidised health care and free education.

This has given rise to what sociologist Hayes Tang of the University of Hong Kong describes as ‘the discontent of Hong Kongers that mainlanders enjoy the benefits at the expense of Hong Kong taxpayers’.

‘Culturally, the different habits of mainlanders and Hong Kong residents also pose some ‘cultural shock’ to Hong Kongers, whose public space has been transformed due to the large number of mainland tourists and migrants in Hong Kong,’ he adds.

In Japan for instance, where only 1.5 per cent of the 128 million population are foreigners, the latter enjoy privileges similar to the locals. Foreigners can enrol in the national medical insurance scheme and pay only 30 per cent of medical bills, just like the Japanese. They are also allowed to buy property of any sort, even land.

China, which also has minuscule benefits for its 600,000 foreigners, is also mulling over giving them more, as part of overall efforts to attract foreign talent. In April, a Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security spokesman said it will provide ‘effective social security to an increasing number of foreigners who stay permanently and enable them to enjoy equal treatment’. He did not give details.

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New Book: Hong Kong Movers and Stayers: Narratives of Family Migration

Hong Kong Movers and Stayers: Narratives of Family Migration

Book Talk
Speaker: Professor Janet W. Salaff (University of Toronto)
Moderator: Professor Lui Tai-lok

Date: 13 May 2010 (Thursday)
Time: 7:15-9:00 pm
Venue: Special Collections, 1/F Main Library, University of Hong Kong

Language: English

Registration: http://lib.hku.hk/friends/reading_club/bt2010_6.html

About the Book
An intimate account of what migration means to Hong Kong families
Half a million Hong Kong residents fled their homeland during the thirteen years before Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997–and nearly half of those returned within several years of leaving. Filled with detailed, first-hand stories of nine Hong Kong families over nearly two decades, Hong Kong Movers and Stayers is an exhaustive and intimate look at the forces behind Hong Kong families’ successful and failed efforts at migration and settlement.
This multi-faceted study was begun in 1991, when migration was attributed primarily to the political anxieties of the time and the notion that Hong Kong residents were seeking a better life in the West. Defining migration as a process, not a single act of leaving, Hong Kong Movers and Stayers provides an antidote to ethnocentric and simplistic theories by uncovering migration stories as they relate to social structures and social capital.
With an approach that melds survey analysis, personal biography, and sociology, Hong Kong Movers and Stayers provides a depth of understanding by comparing multiple families and gives voice to the interplay of diverse family roles, gender, and age as motivating factors in migration.

“There is no other study like this in the China migration literature, nor in the literature on emigration from Hong Kong. The thoroughness of this longitudinal research provides a highly nuanced account of how changes in family life over a period of fifteen years have affected motivations and outcomes for migration.”–Nicole Newendorp, author of Uneasy Reunions: Immigration, Citizenship, and Family Life in Post-1997 Hong Kong

About the Authors

Janet W. Salaff is Professor at emerita, the Department of
Sociology, University of Toronto. She received her Ph.D. in 1972 from
the University of California ( Berkeley). She is a visiting scholar,
Centre of Asian studies , University of Hong Kong. She is on the
international editorial board of a number of scholarly journals. Salaff
has studied Chinese family formation and especially the Chinese family
economy throughout her career She started studying Chinese families
while perched in Hong Kong, which got her interested in Hong Kong
itself, especially family life and position of women and men. Her best
known book is WORKING DAUGHTERS OF HONG KONG, which applies
the life study method to this previously overlooked population. This
manuscript was published as a winner of the Arnold and Carolyn Rose
American award to the American Sociological Association. She turned
to international migration research in Hong Kong in 1992 in a project
with SL Wong. The resulting manuscript, which is co-authored along
with A. Greve, is titled, HONG KONG MOVERS AND STAYERS:
NARRATIVES OF FAMILY MIGRATION, University of Illinois press, 2010.
She is currently studying return migration to China.

Siu-lun Wong is a professor of sociology and director of the Centre for Asian Studies at the University of Hong Kong.

Arent Greve is a professor of organization theory at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen, Norway.