The requirement that government employees swear allegiance to Hong Kong has been expanded to foreigners teaching English at some local schools. They were told that they risk losing their jobs if they decline.

The requirement applies to Native English Teachers (NETs) working in government schools – a type of public sector school run by Hong Kong’s Education Bureau (EDB). NETs whose contracts commenced on or after July 1, 2020, the first day that the national security law was in place, are obliged to make the declaration.

china flag hong kong
A student holds a Chinese and Hong Kong flag during a flag-raising ceremony to mark China’s National Day. File Photo: Isaac Lawrence/AFP.

Responding to an HKFP enquiry, the EDB confirmed that teachers employed at government schools under the scheme and advisors in the bureau were informed of the requirement to sign the declaration last Tuesday.

Signed declarations must be returned by June 21. In the event of “neglect, refusal or failure to duly sign,” the EDB will, “based on the facts of each case, initiate action to terminate the employment… in accordance with the relevant terms of his/her employment contract.”

HKFP has asked the EDB whether the requirement will be extended to those employed at other types of public sector schools, such as aided and Direct Subsidy Scheme schools.

NET Scheme teacher
NET Scheme. Photo: GovHK.

A NET teacher employed at a government school said they had been given a “stack” of papers explaining the requirement as well as the declaration form itself, which was seen by HKFP.

The teacher told HKFP they were “not happy” about having to sign it, adding that the move was as if the authorities were “treating us as foreign agents who might instil dangerous ideas into the mind of Hong Kong youngsters.”

The declaration in full – click to view

I declare that, as an employee of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China appointed on non-civil service terms, I will uphold the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, bear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, be dedicated to my duties and be responsible to the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

The chairperson of the Native English Speaking Teachers’ Association, or NESTA, declined to comment. He abruptly ended the call when HKFP reached out on Thursday. Meanwhile, a media request left on a NET forum was deleted.

The NET scheme recruits English teachers, largely from abroad, to teach at public sector schools. According to the Education Bureau’s website, NETs are employed on two-year contracts, normally starting in mid-August. The starting rate for NET’s monthly salary is at point 15 of the civil servants pay scale – HK$31,750.

‘A basic responsibility’

Following the passing of the national security law in 2020, authorities gradually rolled out requirements for government employees to take an oath or make a declaration to uphold the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution; bear allegiance to Hong Kong; and be responsible to the Hong Kong government.

The Civil Service Bureau announced in October 2020 that civil servants appointed after the enactment of the legislation would be required to take pledge their loyalty.

“Upholding [the Basic Law] and swearing allegiance are a basic responsibility and requirement. A confirmation of such a basic requirement is a fundamental requisite for civil servants,” Secretary for Civil Service Patrick Nip said in November 2020.

Patrick Nip.
Patrick Nip. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

The requirement was later broadened to include civil servants appointed before the security law came into force.

Then, last May, authorities announced that government staff employed on a contractual basis – meaning they are not on civil service terms – would also need to sign the declaration.

The national security law, passed by Beijing’s top legislative body, was enacted in Hong Kong on June 30, 2020. It followed months of protests in the summer of 2019, when Hongkongers took to the streets to oppose a controversial extradition bill. The legislation criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts.

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HKFP has reached out to the UK, US, Canadian and Australian consulates about whether the taking of the declaration would have any effect on citizenship.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.