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'Seven-year Rule on New Immigrants to Continue'

The government will adhere to the seven-year residency requirement that governs new arrivals applying for social security allowance, Director of Social Welfare Paul Tang said yesterday.

Under this policy, effective since 2004, new arrivals are expected to plan their living in advance before coming to Hong Kong.

Addressing a Legislative Council subcommittee yesterday, Tang said that under the 2004 rule the residency requirement upon children was relaxed.

In the past, those under 18 could only apply for social security after living in Hong Kong for one year, but they have been immediately eligible since 2004. As for adults, discretion may be given for those who do not meet the seven-year requirement.

In the 14 months ending February 28, 2005, there were 1,582 applications that did not qualify.

Among them, 198 were approved with discretion, 17 were rejected but 1,230 were withdrawn by the applicants.

At the meeting, two female single parents who arrived in Hong Kong last year said they did not benefit from the discretion system.

Physically abused by their husbands, they wanted to separate from them and applied for social security. Yet they were told by Social Welfare Department staff that they were ineligible.

Legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, from the Confederation of Trade Unions, criticized the frontline staff for applying the discretion power very rigidly.

Although the seven-year rule does not apply to children under 18, the overall arrangement was not satisfactory because single parents have to take care of children and cannot go to work. Lee suggested single parents be exempted from the seven-year rule. If not, they would inevitably use their children's social security allowances. Tang replied that mainlanders must make advance plans for their living before settling in Hong Kong.

(China Daily April 9, 2005)



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