Delayed dependent visas harm local families

Post Date: Jul 5th, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

According to the Immigration Department’s “Guidelines for Entry for Residents as Dependents” the processing time for dependent visas is six weeks upon receipt of all required documents. But, as nothing is easy for refugees, after they marry resident spouses, they often wait years, during which time they are subjected to intense scrutiny in order to counter sham marriages.

Vision First frequently receives complaints from refugee husbands frustrated with Immigration Department procedures that delay the issuance of dependent visas. It could be argued that requisite documents were not fully submitted, but applicant wives confirm that at times the same documents are frequently requested over and over.

In most cases the problem is not that visas are denied, but there appears to be a sort of informal “Marriage Stress Test” that couples need to pass. This theory postulates that couples are subjected to heightened anxiety to assess the genuineness of relationship, despite couples already having children.

Several conclusions can be made in this regard. One is that such ‘waiting time’ unfairly strains family resources as working mothers are compelled to single-handedly carry the economic burden. These long waits in fact punish Hong Kong citizens for marrying refugees. Second, financial hardship causes confrontations that might lead to divorce, thereby possibly erroneously skewing statistics to prove that refugee/residents marriages do not last and refugees are undeserving of dependent visas.

Third, in the blog “HKSAR fails to safeguard the rights of (some) resident children” we shared the story of families condemned to perpetual welfare because Immigration refused visas that would allow refugee husbands to earn a living. In such cases the mothers’ income failed to meet the financial criteria for dependent visas. A paradoxical situation then arises in which HKSAR pays for welfare and children suffer economically and scholastically because of failures in assessing the bigger picture.

The blog stated that “there are 100 children born to mixed-status parents whose families do not benefit from paternal support because visas are unreasonably delayed over two years – when not rejected. These biased delays and denials appear to violate resident children’s rights without evaluating the consequences on their development and its detrimental long-term social impact.” Rules and regulations should be formulated to assist citizens, not hold them back.

Here we present the story of Immanuel and his father. Immanuel’s permanent residence was established at birth through his mother Cecilia, while his father Yaovi still doesn’t have a dependent visa four years after their wedding. Yaovi sought asylum in Hong Kong a decade ago and explains that he cannot return to his motherland for political reasons. Immanuel is too young to understand that Immigration denied his parents’ application and consequently the options that will be available to the family in future.

While it is understandable that the Immigration Department has rules to follow, Immanuel’s father doesn’t have a passport and in fact, like many refugees fleeing in a hurry, arrived with the assistance of a middleman and never saw the document used to secure his boarding pass in 2006. However, in order to get his visa granted, he is apparently required to have a passport.

“How can I return home to get a new passport?” Yaovi laments “I fled my country for fear of torture and persecution and now Hong Kong Immigration wants me to go back and get a passport so that a dependent visa can be stuck in it. What’s the logical of that? Do they want me to get killed there?”

There are many legal considerations to be made, but at this point the debate could swing from a rigid immigration stance to a more humanitarian viewpoint. Noteworthy is that certain facts remained unchanged for eight years during which Yaovi suffered the culture of rejection that even blocked his passage through the only pathway to residence opened to refugees, namely, marriage with a resident spouse.

Immanuel speaks fluent Cantonese and is kind and polite even among new faces. He is a Hong Kong permanent resident who doesn’t understand that his father is the victim of administrative myopia that condemned him to perpetual welfare for technical reasons. A rigid decision was made to stick to regulations without evaluating the deleterious effect of forced unemployment on a husband and of perpetual marginalization on a father.

This protracted stalemate can only be ended by Hong Kong reviewing requirements for exceptional cases. It should be clear after eight years that Yaovi is here to stay and cannot risk returning to his country to satisfy immigration requirements. Immigration Department should consider issuing dependent visas to refugee spouses within a clear timeframe while making provisions for those who have no passport, in an age in which visa labels are no longer printed in many developed countries.

Four years after marrying a Hong Kong wife, Yaovi does not have a dependent visa as he arrived without a passport. His son Emmanuel suffers from the rigid stance taken by Immigration.