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LCQ11: Working Holiday Scheme

     Following is a question by the Hon Ip Wai-ming and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (December 2):


     It has been reported that in mid-October this year, a young man from Hong Kong who went to Australia under the Working Holiday Scheme (the Scheme) to broaden life experience encountered a car accident there and was paralysed. His family members had approached the Labour Department (LD) and the Immigration Department (ImmD) for assistance, but in vain.  Yet, upon referrals made by newspapers, the departments followed up the case immediately, and this incident had aroused grave public concern. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the time LD and ImmD first received the request for assistance, as well as what their response was and the reasons for that; the dates when these departments formally follow up the case and the details;

(b) of the total number of young people from Hong Kong who were approved to participate in the Scheme since its implementation in 2001 and, among them, the number of those who had sought assistance from the Government during their participation in the Scheme;

(c) where young people from Hong Kong encounter accidents or need assistance during their stay overseas under the Scheme, of the government department in Hong Kong from which these people can approach for assistance, apart from seeking the assistance of the local Chinese embassies/consulates, as well as the government department responsible for following up such cases; and

(d) whether it has ever suggested to Hong Kong young people participating in the Scheme to take out insurance before departure; whether it has plans to require future participants to do so; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



(a) The family of the injured working holidaymaker first called the Assistance to Hong Kong Residents Unit (AHU) of the Hong Kong Immigration Department (ImmD) for assistance on October 22, 2009. On the same day, immediately after receipt of the call, AHU contacted and liaised with the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in the HKSAR and the Chinese Embassy in Australia (the Embassy). The Embassy in turn got in touch with the holidaymaker's family in Australia, visited the holidaymaker on October 25, 2009, and liaised with the local authorities and hospital and provided necessary assistance to the family. Besides, the Acting Director of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office (HKETO) in Sydney paid a visit to the hospital on October 31, 2009 to console the holidaymaker and his family and see what assistance could be offered.  Throughout, AHU and the relevant government departments have been maintaining close contact with the family and the medical service agent in Australia in order to provide the necessary assistance.

     The Labour Department (LD) could not identify any record of call from the holidaymaker's family. Notwithstanding this, after the incident was made known to LD on October 28, 2009, LD liaised with ImmD, the Australian Consulate-General in Hong Kong and HKETO in Sydney for the necessary follow-up.

(b) Up to October 30, 2009, some 9,450 Hong Kong youths had travelled to Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Germany under the Working Holiday Scheme (the Scheme).  According to the relevant HKETOs, so far there were two cases (including the present case) of request for assistance.  LD has not received any similar requests so far this year. LD and ImmD do not have the breakdowns of statistics of requests for assistance for past years and thus cannot provide the relevant figures.

(c) Generally speaking, in case of accidents, Hong Kong residents (including working holidaymakers) abroad may approach the relevant Chinese Embassy or Consulates for assistance, or call the 24-hour hotline of the AHU of ImmD at (852)1868. The Chinese Embassy or Consulates and AHU will provide assistance as appropriate according to the circumstances of the cases, such as issuing travel documents, contacting families, referring local lawyers, doctors and/or interpreters, and liaising with the local authorities, etc. Where circumstances warrant, AHU would liaise with other government departments (e.g. Social Welfare Department) of the HKSAR for further assistance.

(d) The Government has been careful in designing the details of the Scheme to ensure protection to the working holidaymakers. However, given the varying circumstances of different countries, some terms (including eligibility) may differ among countries, taking account of the prevailing circumstances and requirements of the country concerned.  At present, under the agreements with New Zealand, Ireland, Germany and Japan, applicants are required to take out insurance plans throughout their stay, otherwise they would not be issued with working holiday visas.  

     For the agreement with Australia, there is no similar provision requiring the applicants to take out insurance policy during their stay.  In fact, owing to domestic considerations, all other similar agreements on the working holiday scheme signed by Australia do not impose any requirement on insurance. In 2007, LD had a thorough discussion with the Australian counterparts on the possibility of making medical insurance a compulsory requirement. This year, LD has revisited the issue with the Australian authorities, but they were of the view that the provisions in the agreement with Hong Kong should align with those that Australia had concluded with other countries. However, the Australian authorities have now on the Scheme's website and application form reminded applicants to take out suitable medical insurance to cover possible costs incurred in Australia. LD has also posted similar advice on its website.

Ends/Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Issued at HKT 13:00


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