Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said that Hong Kong people should not adopt an exclusionary attitude over immigrants, amid claims new arrivals are putting a strain upon the city’s healthcare resources.

Under the one-way permit scheme, 150 people can move to Hong Kong from the mainland each day. The Hong Kong government has no power to vet who can come. Some activists and medical staff at overburdened facilities have been complaining that new immigrants are significant users of the public healthcare system, though no official records are kept.

Asked about the criticism, and whether the government will review the current policy, Lam told reporters ahead of Tuesday’s Executive Council meeting that she was disappointed with recent remarks.

Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

“I am disappointed and of course somewhat concerned that a minority of Hong Kong residents took this exclusionary, negative approach in looking at the relationship between the central government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Because it may affect how other residents think,” she said.

Lam said the one-way permit scheme is a mechanism for family reunions used by couples, children or parents.

“They come to Hong Kong to become Hong Kong residents. If we look at them separately to see how much healthcare and social services they use, then this is a very exclusionary view,” she said.

She said, according to statistics, elderly people have a higher rate of using public hospital services, but those who came via one-way permit scheme have a median age lower than the city-wide median.

Lam added that there were fewer elderly people coming to Hong Kong compared to young people, and dismissed claims immigrants were over-burdening the system: “Without figures from the Hospital Authority, I don’t see a very solid basis for such claims.”

“I urge people to adopt a tolerant attitude to welcome family members of Hong Kong residents to come to Hong Kong for family reunions,” she added.

A protest urging for reduction of one-way permit scheme quotas. Photo: Facebook/Gary Fan.

‘Bursting point’

Lawmaker Claudia Mo criticised Lam as saying that she used the term “exclusionary” in order to ignore the core of the controversy surrounding the one-way permit scheme.

“We are not repelling new immigrants. Our medical professionals have been saying that even if the service is at bursting point, they would not act any less professionally because of skin colour, background or race of patients,” she said.

“The issue is about the number of one-way permit holders. Hong Kong cannot sustain that number – we cannot have 150 people coming to Hong Kong every day,” she said. “We are not saying we oppose family reunions entirely – we never said that, because we also believe it is a kind of human right.”

Mo said there were cases of corruption surrounding the one-way permit scheme, such as an issue of people selling permits as well as bogus marriages. In one case, a permit was sold for up to HK$2 million, iCable reported.

“It’s not only about medical services, housing is also over-capacity,” she said.

A simple one-way permit.

Neo Democrats lawmaker Gary Fan said that, according to official figures, 22.8 per cent of the 57,387 who moved to Hong Kong via the one-way permit scheme in 2016 were over 45.

He said there were only 1.9 doctors and 7.1 nurses per 1,000 Hong Kong residents.

“They are just like other Hong Kong people – they will get old, they will have to use the public healthcare system. Then you know our medical professionals are only sharing a simple fact,” he said.

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.