Hong Kong saw an inflow of 37,800 One-way Permit (OWP) holders between mid-2014 and mid-2015, making up 66 percent of the territory’s population growth over the period, according to a government report.

The report, released on Thursday by the Census and Statistics Department, estimated that Hong Kong’s population increased by 56,900 – or 0.8 percent – to 7.29 million people.

The natural increase of the population was 18,100 over the same period, with a total of 62,600 births registered. The report did not give figures for the number of babies born to non-Hong Kong residents.

The inflow of OWP holders has been responsible for more than 60 per cent of the city’s population growth every year for the past decade.

Percentage of OWP holder inflow over population growth, 2005-2014

The entry of mainland Chinese into Hong Kong for residence is provided under Article 22 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that China’s government can determine the number of people who can settle in Hong Kong every year under the OWP Scheme.

The scheme is mainly designed to facilitate family reunions with a daily quota of 150, but the quota has not been filled since 2005.

Despite public concerns about possible abuse of the system and the threats posed by the influx of OWP holders to Hong Kong’s existing way of life, Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok dismissed calls to reduce the quota in 2013.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying also said at the time that the territory should look for land to build houses for the growing population instead of reviewing the OWP scheme.

The Hong Kong government does not generally have the power to vet OWP applications, although the Security Bureau said that it had exchanged views with Chinese officials on the scheme from time to time.

However, Democratic Party lawmaker James To has criticised the government for not seeking autonomy in vetting OWP applications and reviewing the scheme in the long run. Having a higher degree of autonomy would be conducive to more effective population policy, To argues.

Mainland authorities have loosened up the scheme over time, such as allowing mainland-born children adopted by Hong Kong residents to apply for OWPs in 2001, relaxing the age limit of accompanying children from 14 to 18 in 2003, and relaxing eligibility for separated spouses in 2005.


Ellie Ng

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.