Facilitation measures for HK people on the Mainland
8 April 2018
The growing ties between Hong Kong and the Mainland have seen more and more of us heading north for employment, work trips, studies, sightseeing, visiting relatives, or even settling down after retirement.
To help Hong Kong people seize the opportunities arising from the country’s development, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government has actively followed up on the facilitation measures offered by state authorities for our citizens who study, work or live on the Mainland. At the same time, the SAR Government is also proactively innovating to implement favourable policies that can bring greater convenience to Hong Kong people staying or living on the Mainland.
Seeing that some of our senior citizens choose to move to the Mainland for retirement, the SAR Government introduced the Guangdong Scheme as early as 2013. Under the scheme, eligible SAR citizens aged 65 or above living in Guangdong Province can receive the Old Age Allowance without having to return to Hong Kong every year. The current rate of the allowance is HK$1,345 per month and the amount is adjusted annually according to an established mechanism. Around 16 000 senior citizens are benefiting from the Guangdong Scheme. Drawing on this successful experience, we launched the Fujian Scheme last week (on 1 April) so that eligible senior citizens choosing to live in Fujian Province can also receive the Old Age Allowance under a similar arrangement.
To enable eligible SAR senior citizens to use our health care vouchers at the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital, we introduced a pilot scheme in 2015, under which eligible voucher holders can pay for designated outpatient clinic services in areas including orthopaedics, medicine, ophthalmology, dentistry and Chinese medicine provided by the hospital with the vouchers. Adding an extra service point in Shenzhen, the pilot scheme has given SAR senior citizens living on the Mainland or near Shenzhen better access to the necessary medical services and helped achieve the objective of “ageing in place”.
As at the end of December 2017, about 2 100 eligible SAR senior citizens have used our elderly health care vouchers to pay at the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital, which is a major public hospital providing integrated services, and fully funded by the Shenzhen Municipal Government and managed by the University of Hong Kong. We will closely monitor the implementation of the pilot scheme and explore the feasibility of expanding the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme to cover the services provided by other institutions on the Mainland on the basis of the experience gained from the pilot scheme.
On the front of education, we launched the Mainland University Study Subsidy Scheme in July 2014 to provide financial support for Hong Kong students pursuing undergraduate studies in designated Mainland institutions. The means-tested subsidies are HK$15,000 a year at full rate and HK$7,500 a year at half rate. Furthermore, a non-means-tested subsidy has been provided since the 2017/18 academic year to offer a flat-rate annual subsidy of HK$5,000 to eligible students. Around 3 000 students have benefited from the scheme this year.
In July last year, President Xi Jinping announced in his keynote address at the Inaugural Ceremony of the Fifth-term Government of the Hong Kong SAR that the relevant departments of the Central Government were actively considering concrete facilitation measures to help Hong Kong people studying, working or living on the Mainland. Last October, he also included in his report to the 19th National Congress the formulation and enhancement of policies and measures that would facilitate the development of Hong Kong and Macao residents on the Mainland. Last month, Premier Li Keqiang said, “The development outline of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bay Area is being formulated and will soon be adopted for implementation. People from Hong Kong and Macao who come to work or live on the Mainland, especially in Guangdong, will be gradually granted the same treatment as Mainlanders in terms of housing, education and transport, among others.” We look forward to the early introduction of the measures, which will definitely be helpful for us to seize the opportunities presented by the Bay Area development.
Two batches of policy measures were announced in August and December 2017 respectively by the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council for Hong Kong and Macao residents staying or living on the Mainland. The introduction of the measures demonstrates in full the important direction of supporting the integration of Hong Kong into the overall development of the country as laid down in the report to the 19th National Congress. Covering education, employment, and matters relating to business start-up and day-to-day lives, the facilitation measures allow these Hong Kong people to enjoy the same treatment as residents of the Mainland do in various aspects.
On education, it is specified in clear terms that to protect the rights and interests of Hong Kong and Macao students, Mainland higher education institutions and relevant authorities must accord equal treatment regarding admission, nurture, management of and supporting services to Hong Kong and Macao students. To facilitate their job search and employment on the Mainland, these institutions are also required to issue Employment Agreements and Employment Registration Certificates to students from Hong Kong and Macao upon their graduation. The quotas and amounts awarded for scholarships that are open to Hong Kong, Macao and overseas Chinese students studying at these institutions have also been increased.
Initial implementation is progressing well. Jinan University and Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong Province, for example, enrolled 4 928 and 767 Hong Kong students (including undergraduates and postgraduates) respectively as at the end of 2016. Together they account for 70% of the total number of Hong Kong students studying in Guangdong. In fact, both universities have already adopted measures to protect the rights and interests of Hong Kong and Macao students through offering career guidance, enabling the formation of associations and providing healthcare protection even before receiving notification of the new requirements.
For provinces and cities with larger Hong Kong and Macao communities, such as Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, Shanghai and Beijing, the State Ministry of Education will strengthen its efforts to co-ordinate, promote and support local authorities to provide equal access to free education for children from Hong Kong and Macao. Children from Hong Kong can enjoy free education from grade one in primary school to grade three in junior high school in these places, receiving the same treatment as their Mainland counterparts. Let us take Shenzhen as an example. The Shenzhen Municipal Education Bureau announced in early April 2017 a new policy measure to accept applications from Hong Kong-citizen children for admission to the first year of primary or secondary school under a point system to receive free education at public schools. Reportedly, about 2 500 Hong Kong-citizen children were admitted to primary one and 210 to secondary one at public schools in Shenzhen as at September 2017. For Hong Kong families living and working on the Mainland, the new policy brings much convenience to the parents besides offering an additional option for their children to study in Shenzhen.
On employment benefits, the people of Hong Kong and Macao working on the Mainland are allowed to join the Housing Provident Fund under the new measures. They are treated in the same way as Mainland residents in terms of the base deposit, deposit ratio, processing procedures, withdrawal of deposits and application for personal housing loans under the Housing Provident Fund scheme. If they choose to settle back in Hong Kong, they can draw any unspent amount from the accounts to support their long-term or personal plans.
As for day-to-day living, the China Railway Corporation has installed automatic ticket vending and issuing machines that can read and verify Home Visit Permits at Mainland train stations with relatively large demand for ticketing services from Hong Kong people. These ticketing machines can spare Hong Kong passengers the queuing for counter service.
We are glad to learn that a number of train stations frequented by Hong Kong people (including Beijing South, Beijing West, Guangzhou South, Shenzhen-Futian, Shenzhen North, Shanghai, Shanghai-Hongqiao, Chengdu North, Chongqing and Changsha South) are now installed with the machines operable by Home Visit Permits.
While we are expecting more and more of these facilitation measures, the SAR Government will make continued efforts to secure further convenience and benefits for Hong Kong people so as to help them harness the opportunities brought about by the development of the country.