2. What legal rights do Hong Kong permanent residents enjoy?
By virtue of article 24(3) of the Basic Law, a Hong Kong permanent resident has the right of abode in the Hong Kong SAR. This means that he or she has a legal right to come and go from Hong Kong and to take any job that is offered, to study or to establish any business (section 2A of the Immigration Ordinance).
There is an important qualification for the exercise of the right of abode by Mainland Chinese citizens. Persons who reside in the Mainland of China who acquire Hong Kong permanent resident status by descent from a Hong Kong parent are not entitled to exercise the rights that are conferred by that status unless and until the following criteria have been met:
- they have obtained permission from the Mainland authorities to settle in Hong Kong (they have obtained a "one-way permit") under article 22(4) of the Basic Law; and
- they have been granted a "certificate of entitlement" under section 2AB of the Immigration Ordinance.
In 1999 the Court of Final Appeal declared this qualification to be unconstitutional, but it was restored by an interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in June of that year ( *note ).
According to section 27 of the Legislative Council Ordinance, the right to vote is also conferred with permanent residence.
Under normal circumstances, only permanent residents are entitled to social benefits such as public housing and assistance payments (e.g. Comprehensive Social Security Assistance).
Broadly speaking, the rights of permanent residence are enjoyed equally by all Hong Kong permanent residents, regardless of whether they are Chinese or foreign citizens. However, those who are Chinese citizens have some additional rights. For example, Chinese citizens who are also Hong Kong permanent residents are entitled to apply for Hong Kong SAR passports and home return permits (for travel to Mainland China), and can also hold senior posts in the Hong Kong SAR Government.
( *Note: In the judgment of Ng Ka Ling v Director of Immigration in January 1999, the Court of Final Appeal ruled that Mainland Chinese residents who are entitled to the right of abode in Hong Kong under article 24(2)(3) of the Basic Law could exercise their right to permanent residence in Hong Kong (once verified) even if they had not obtained a one-way permit from the Mainland authorities before entering Hong Kong. In June 1999, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) issued an interpretation that effectively reversed this aspect of the judgement. The NPCSC stated that persons who are eligible to the right of abode under article 24(2)(3) must obtain a one-way permit before being entitled to exercise the right to live in Hong Kong ).