LCQ4: Single mothers issued with OWPs by Mainland authorities on discretionary basis

     Following is a question by the Hon Mrs Regina Ip and a reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (June 29):


     Quite a number of Mainland women have sought my assistance regarding the problem of single-parent families being separated by the Mainland-Hong Kong boundary.  They married or cohabited with Hong Kong residents and have given birth to children, but subsequently they divorced their husbands or were deserted by their partners.  As a result, they are ineligible for applying for Permits for Proceeding to Hong Kong and Macao (commonly known as "One-way Permits" (OWPs)) to settle in Hong Kong, and may only apply for Exit-entry Permits for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao (commonly known as "Two-way Exit Permits") so that they can have a brief stay in Hong Kong to take care of their minor children.  As they may neither take up employment in Hong Kong nor apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, they are in financial straits.  Their children, despite having the status of Hong Kong residents, lack the love and care of a healthy family, and have to lodge under other people's roof which may make them feel discriminated.  As a result, these children encounter a lot of difficulties when growing up.  Some of them may develop hatred of society due to their long accumulated dissatisfaction, which may lead to a potential youth problem.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the current statistics or estimated figures on Mainland single mothers who are ineligible for applying for OWPs due to the aforesaid situations, and on their minor children residing in Hong Kong;

(2) as the aforesaid single-mother assistance seekers are ineligible for applying for OWPs and some of the assistance seekers have chronic diseases, whether the Director of Immigration (D of Imm) will consider granting, on compassionate grounds, permission for those assistance seekers who are under such special circumstances to stay in Hong Kong, so that they can take care of their minor children; and

(3) how the authorities currently provide appropriate support for the aforesaid single mothers and their minor children in order to help these children grow up healthily, and of the relevant details?



     Upon consultation with relevant policy bureaux and departments, the reply to the Hon Mrs Regina Ip's question is as follows:

(1) and (2) It is stipulated in Article 22 of the Basic Law that, for entry into the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), people from other parts of China must apply for approval.  The provisions of this Article, in accordance with the Interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in 1999, mean that Mainland residents who wish to enter Hong Kong for whatever reason, must apply to the relevant authorities of their residential districts for approval in accordance with the relevant national laws and administrative regulations, and must hold valid documents issued by the relevant authorities.   Such being the case, Mainland residents who wish to settle in Hong Kong for family reunion must apply for Permits for Proceeding to Hong Kong and Macao (commonly known as "One-way Permits" (OWPs)), from the Exit and Entry Administration Offices of the Public Security Bureau at the places of their household registration.

     The HKSAR Government understands that some Mainland single mothers whose husbands are Hong Kong permanent residents encounter special family difficulties, for instance, being widowed or divorced, and are thus no longer eligible for application for OWPs but still have to take care of their young children in Hong Kong.  The HKSAR Government is concerned about the requests from these Mainland single mothers to come to Hong Kong to take care of their children.

     For individual requests for assistance from the Mainland single mothers of minor children in Hong Kong who married to Hong Kong permanent residents but are widowed or divorced, or having other special difficulties and are no longer eligible for application for OWPs to join spouse, the Immigration Department (ImmD) would convey such cases to and liaise with the Mainland Exit and Entry Administration Offices, having regard to the requests of the persons seeking help and circumstances of the cases, for compassionate consideration of their situation by the Mainland authorities and exercise of discretion in processing their applications for entry into Hong Kong.  In fact, the Mainland Exit and Entry Administration Offices have been responding positively to the requests for assistance by exercising discretion in processing individual requests to the extent as prescribed by Mainland regulations.

     As at May 31, 2016, the ImmD received around 150 requests for assistance from Mainland single mothers through Legislative Council members and various organisations, involving a total of around 180 minor children in Hong Kong.  Over 80 of those single mothers have been issued with OWPs by the Mainland authorities for settling in Hong Kong on a discretionary basis on account of their individual circumstances.  Among the remaining 70 or so cases of single mothers who have not been issued with OWPs on a discretionary basis, over half of them who sought assistance were issued with a "one-year multiple exit endorsement for visiting relatives", to facilitate their entry to look after minor children.  The HKSAR Government does not maintain other statistics requested in the question.

     The Immigration Ordinance (Cap. 115) has clearly provided for immigration and residency matters, with the main objective of maintaining effective immigration control.  Though the Director of Immigration (D of Imm) could, in special cases, consider exercising discretion outside the established policy to allow certain individuals to stay in Hong Kong, such consideration must take into account Hong Kong's overall interest.  Exceptions to the established immigration policies must be handled carefully.  The D of Imm must consider such factors as whether the case is supported by unique and strong humanitarian or compassionate grounds.

     The HKSAR Government will continue to reflect the aspirations of various sectors of the community to the Mainland authorities with regard to the requests for assistance from Mainland single mothers, as well as communicate with the Mainland authorities to follow up on individual cases.

(3) At present, there are a total of 65 Integrated Family Service Centres and two Integrated Services Centres operated by the Social Welfare Department and subvented non-governmental organisations (NGOs) over the territory providing a continuum of preventive, supportive and remedial welfare services to individuals and their families in need, including Hong Kong residents' family members who are holding Exit-entry Permits for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macao (commonly known as "Two-way Permits").  These include family life education, parent-child activities, enquiry service, outreaching service, support/mutual help groups, counselling, referral service, etc.  Social workers will provide appropriate services and assistance according to the circumstances and needs of the individuals concerned, including children of single parents, and their families, so as to provide timely support to the families.  Social workers will also refer those children of single parents with financial difficulties to apply for appropriate financial assistance.

     The Education Bureau (EDB) has been providing appropriate support to Mainland single mothers' children who are attending schools in Hong Kong.  To assist newly-arrived students to integrate into Hong Kong society and overcome learning barriers, local schools are offering a six-month full-time "Initiation Programme", and, at the same time, may make use of the "School-based Support Scheme Grant" to organise school-based support programmes for newly-arrived primary and secondary students.  On another front, NGOs are providing "Induction Programmes" to render assistance to newly-arrived students.  To meet students' learning and development needs in various developmental stages, a number of schools are making adjustments in areas such as timetable setting, course planning, teaching strategies, students' developmental support and home-school co-operation.  Furthermore, as a holistic approach to assist students in meeting their learning needs, schools may flexibly utilise various kinds of EDB resources as a way to address students' learning diversities and help them integrate into the learning environment.  When encountering any challenges in learning, social life, behavioural and emotional developments, students may seek help from school social workers or student guidance personnel, who may render assistance on account of students' needs, and, where necessary, refer their cases to other service units for provision of appropriate services.

Ends/Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Issued at HKT 16:42