VF Opinion: It’s time for temporary work permits

Post Date: Jan 16th, 2015 | Categories: Housing, VF Opinion, Welfare | COMMENT

Vision First was informed that on 15 January 2014 a delegation of refugees protested at the Social Welfare Department head-office against unrealistic rent assistance levels that pushed their backs against the ropes.

As many refugees are now forced to relocate from slums in which they lived for years, these same refugees face a compelling dilemma. With rental market prices on the rise and government rent assistance generally no more than $1500, where to find affordable rooms?

“ISS gave me a list of estate agents who showed me small rooms as big as a single mattress with prices between 3000$ and 4000$ a month. Also many wanted cash payment because they don’t want to work with ISS”, lamented an irate refugee who has lived in Hong Kong for 8 years.

Vision First expects that, since reliance on refugee slums has come under fire, the housing crisis will rapidly deteriorate as hundreds of claimants are forced into homelessness by failed welfare policies.

Besieged SWD officers listened carefully to the refugees, though clearly out of their depth as far as solutions were concerned. An SWD officer confirmed that, “in the past few months ISS was trying to resolve the slum problem”. A senior officer repeated a canned defense line, “We will raise your concerns with ISS and ask them to mobilize all their resources to find a solution.” But what resources are available to constrained caseworkers?

Fresh solutions are required to resolve a matter that brings great shame to Hong Kong. It is time for Hong Kong Government to pragmatically acknowledge the absurdity of so-called humanitarian assistance that fails to adequately house refugees in our expensive city. This utterly disappointing and unpleasant situation created by unrealistic rent levels ought to be urgently reviewed.

Vision First strongly recommends that refugees be allowed to work for the years it takes Immigration Department to determine asylum claims. It is sadly pathetic that every two years refugees must protest to raise welfare levels that fall hopelessly and predictably behind inflation. Further, temporary work permits would certainly benefit Hong Kong, as research demonstrates that refugees do not steal jobs from residents, but rather contribute extensively to raising their income.

Let’s be honest. If it is policy to hold thousands of refugees in limbo while claims flounder in bureaucracy, then it is only fair that claimants be allowed to earn a living to supplement unacceptably low assistance levels. This wouldn’t be inconsistent with the token welfare safety-net that forces destitute, old and needy citizens to eke out a subsistence living on their knees. 

The Refugee Union presented this protest letter to SWD and Security Bureau

It’s time for temporary work permit 1
Frustrated refugees explain to SWD officers that it is impossible to find basic rooms for 1500$. They invited the SWD director to discuss the challenges they face with the Security Bureau as it is pointless to refer the problem to ISS caseworkers who are also hamstrung by policy decisions.