Hong Kong’s government has changed its visa policy for same-sex spouses following a historic legal ruling this year. The new policy means same-sex spouses will be able to apply for dependent visas to stay with their partners in Hong Kong starting from Wednesday.

As same-sex unions are not recognised under Hong Kong laws, same-sex spouses were not previously eligible to hold visas as dependents. This changed in July, when the Court of Final Appeal upheld a lower court’s judgment in favour of lesbian expat QT, affirming what legal experts deemed a “landmark decision” for Hong Kong’s LGBTQ community.

The top court said that the government’s differential treatment towards QT – denying her a spousal visa on the basis of marital status – amounted to unlawful discrimination.

Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

The government was required to revise its policy after the case. The new policy applies to those who entered legal and officially recognised same-sex civil partnerships, civil unions or marriages overseas, whose partners are eligible local sponsors.

Under the revised policy, the Director of Immigration will permit same-sex spouses to live as dependants in Hong Kong if the person meets the normal immigration requirements, in addition to three criteria.

The criteria include reasonable proof of a genuine relationship between the applicant and the sponsor; no known records to the detriment of the applicant; and the sponsor’s ability to support the dependant’s living at a standard well above the subsistence level and provide him/her with suitable accommodation in Hong Kong.

Interim arrangements

After the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of QT in September last year, the Immigration Department granted “interim arrangements” to same-sex couples applying for dependant visas.

The department said the arrangements will remain valid.

Those permitted to stay under the arrangement can apply to the department for an extension to remain in Hong Kong as dependants before their permitted limit of stay expires. The department will then process the applications according to the revised policy.

The government added that the new policy ensures that Hong Kong will “continue to attract and retain people with the right talent and skills” by giving them the choice of bringing their non-local dependants to live with them in Hong Kong.

Ray Chan, Hong Kong’s first openly gay lawmaker, welcomed the new policy: “Welcome to #HongKong! Congratulations! #LoveWins,” he tweeted.

The government maintained that the new policy does not affect the meaning of “spouse” under the policy.  It also does not affect any other government policies or any other rights under Hong Kong’s existing laws.

Photo: Court of Final Appeal.

“As the CFA recognised in its judgment in the QT case, a valid marriage under Hong Kong law is heterosexual and monogamous and is not a status open to couples of the same sex,” a government spokesman said.

“The revision has nothing to do with legal recognition of same-sex civil partnership, same-sex civil union, ‘same-sex marriage’, opposite-sex civil partnership or opposite-sex civil union in Hong Kong. Nor should there be any expectation of such plan by the Government. The revision does not compromise the Government’s position in any legal proceedings.”

LGBTQ rights group Big Love Alliance welcomed the policy change.

“But do not forget that the change was only made after the government lost the QT judicial review and was forced to comply with the court judgment. There is still a long way to go for marriage equality in Hong Kong,” it said in a social media post.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.