Cross-border school rush stokes tensions

Fifteen years after the right of abode issue led to two landmark Court of Final Appeal (“CFA”) judgments, it now appears the Hong Kong education sector’s turn to handle the repercussions.

One recent wintry dawn, more than 100 Mainland Chinese parents started lining up outside a primary school in Hong Kong to try to clinch Grade One places for their children. They were among 700 parents competing for 550 school spots in an area near the border with the mainland that has become a magnet for people in Shenzhen and nearby cities who want their Hong Kong-born children educated in the financial hub.

Since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, both sides have integrated more closely and Hong Kong has benefited from economic benefits such as visiting mainland tourists and trade agreements.

But the influx has also caused resentment in the city of seven million people, from crowded maternity wards to soaring apartment prices, and now, with the children growing up, the scramble for schools.

Roughly a quarter of births in Hong Kong between 2002 and 2012 - or more than 200,000 babies - were to couples who both came from Mainland China. Birth in Hong Kong secured residency for the children and accompanying benefits, including free education.

The CFA judgements - Ng Ka-ling and others vs Director of Immigration [1999] 1 HKLRD 315 and Chan Kam-nga vs Director of Immigration [1999] 1 HKLRD 304 - confirmed the right of abode in Hong Kong for almost 1.7 million persons born in the mainland, though this was deemed impractical by many in Hong Kong in terms of available resource. The Hong Kong government has been looking into how it can alleviate the general situation and assuage local concerns.

- Hong Kong Lawyer and Reuters News