Saturday, July 21, 2012, 00:00

Greening Hong Kong's aging population

By Michelle Fei

Greening Hong Kong's aging population

Greening Hong Kong's aging population

Greening Hong Kong's aging population

A professor of geography at HKU believes mainland parents of Hong Kong-born children should be granted a special visa, allowing them to settle in Hong Kong to help ease the citys aging problem.

A special visa should be given to eligible mainland parents of Type II babies babies born in Hong Kong but whose parents come from the mainland, says a University of Hong Kong (HKU) scholar. The special visa, according to Paul Yip Siu-fai, a professor in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the HKU, would allow the parents of the so-called double no children to live in Hong Kong with their kids.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pledged during the election campaign to block mainland couples from having their babies in Hong Kong next year. Yip dismisses the CEs stance as something of a wild suggestion.

So far, theres a misunderstanding that these parents are not well-educated and would just consume social resources. But the hard data suggests otherwise indeed. These are people who are very actively well-off, quite highly-educated and they are professionals, said Yip, who has been carefully observing the aging problem in Hong Kongs work force and the labor shortage that has plagued the city for years.

Yip was also a member of the population policy advisory group of the Central Policy Unit of the Hong Kong government.

Official statistics show that 60 percent of mainland parents of Type II babies have been through post-secondary education, which is higher than average level of parents of babies born to Hong Kong fathers.

Whats more, more than 80 percent of these mainland parents are economically active. Most are managers, administrators or professionals, according to a survey by the Census and Statistics Department issued in September 2011.

They are not any worse than local mothers. Thats a group of high quality people to come, Yip concluded.

Yip suggested a new immigration policy be introduced to welcome well-educated mainland parents whose babies were born in Hong Kong. They could settle in the city, together with their children, to contribute brain power to the city, thus help to ease Hong Kongs aging problem and fill the work force gap.

Under the current policy, mainland parents of Hong Kong children can only wait till the children grow up till they are over 18 years old to apply for them to be united as a family in Hong Kong.

According to Yips suggestion, with a special visa, these mainland parents, could move to Hong Kong with their children as Hong Kong citizens whenever they chose.

Its not the right of abode in Hong Kong for the parents, declared Yip. Its a special visa given under specific criteria to select talents the city needs in certain fields.

In April, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying pledged a number of reforms including limiting access to public services for mainland residents.

However, Yip doesnt think his suggestion contradicts the CEs ideas.

I dont think my suggestion goes against Mr Leungs policy at all. His policy was to respond to the community at a time when we didnt have enough resources to serve local people, said Yip.

However, when we sit down and look at the problem in the wider picture, we need to plan for the long term, for a more sustainable city, said Yip.

Hong Kong is facing a very serious aging problem. We need man power anyway. With or without having babies born in Hong Kong, these people are de-facto talents that we should absorb; now with their children born with the right of abode in Hong Kong, its more natural to welcome them to Hong Kong and add value to the society, said Yip.

The aging problem in Hong Kong is among the most serious the city faces and its coupled with an unprecedented low fertility rate, according to Yip.

Every two years, the average age of Hong Kong grows by one year. Its predictable that by 2030, about half of the population will be 50 or above.

I think that will change everything life style, living environment and even the politics in Hong Kong, said the geography professor.

These Type II babies are born with the right of abode in Hong Kong. Really, they are not Type II babies. They are Hong Kong babies. The main point is to think about how to make good use of this group of babies and their parents; how to make sure these Hong Kong babies are being well taken care of, said Yip.

The number of births to mainland women in Hong Kong increased rapidly from 7,810 in 2001 to 27, 574 in 2007 and further to 43,982 in 2011.

In 2001, there were 7.9 percent of newborns were the offspring of two mainland parents. The percentage surged to 81.3 percent in 2011, according to official statistics.

Meanwhile, 99 percent of these mainland parents of Hong Kong babies said the children would not stay in Hong Kong. The figures were revealed in an official survey at the beginning of 2011. Still, about 64 percent of these mainland parents indicated their intention to bring their children back to Hong Kong at a later date.

Yip did some simple math on the numbers. By 2018, some 33,000 of Hong Kong babies born to mainland parents are expected to move back to Hong Kong. Based on the SARs current small class system, those numbers will require 1,000 class rooms, or 250 new schools in Hong Kong.

Personally I doubt the percentage is 64, since the government only asked the parents once when collecting the birth certificates, said Yip. Who can tell what will happen in five years or even one year later.

With the suggested new immigration policy, mainland parents would give a second thought, a serious thought, about whether to come back to Hong Kong, and exactly when to come back, said Yip.

The official survey also showed that among parents who did not plan to arrange Hong Kong residency for their babies, about two-thirds hoped their children would grow up under their guidance on the mainland.

Convenient traffic for cross-boundary travelling was the second most common reason for parents not wanting their babies to reside in Hong Kong.

With such a large group of Type II babies to come, and even a large group of parents, Yip was confident that the city will handle additional immigration by being prepared, well in advance.

The community has been complaining that mainland mothers are drawing upon too many social resources; however, its not their problem. The problem is that the society failed to prepare for such a large influx. The system was not ready, and gave these mothers no chance to contribute to the society, said Yip.

Nowadays some over 10,000 children live with their parents in Shenzhen and cross the boundary to go to school everyday.

Its crazy to see such little kids being forced to get up early and travel all the way to school. If someone can come up with other ideas of making life easier for these children, that works for me too, said Yip. After all, all I want is to take good care of these babies.

I heard about mainland parents being afraid of sending children to Hong Kong schools for fear of discrimination; I also heard Hong Kong mothers were upset at their children being deprived of their right to attend local schools. We are making life difficult for everyone, said Yip.

The geography scholar believes, under his proposed policy, the problems of divided families will be solved and these high-quality families will become assets in Hong Kong and contribute to the spontaneous growth of the SAR.