Our vacancy documents and role profiles for teachers, in the course of being proofread after some revisions in 2016, were found to be lacking in terms of explaining how Hong Kong’s immigration policies would affect same-sex partners and couples. These unions and marriages are not recognised locally even if they are in other countries.
Working with the HR team and the authors of the role profile, we researched the legal background of how visas worked by contacting the Immigration Department, and thought about the level of detail and clarity someone unfamiliar with working abroad might need.
In the end, we came up with the following text:
‘Married partners of heterosexual people admitted to live in the city for professional employment or capital investment can work without permission from Immigration Department.
However, the Hong Kong government does not recognise same-sex partnerships, civil unions or marriages, even if they have legal validity outside Hong Kong, and thus will not grant dependent visas to same-sex partners who are not in Hong Kong for employment or study reasons of their own.
The consequence of a civil partner or same-sex wife or husband not being granted a dependant visa is that he/she will only be permitted to enter Hong Kong on a tourist visa, student visa or employment visa. While in Hong Kong on a tourist visa, a person cannot obtain a Hong Kong Identity Card, cannot work or study, and must leave Hong Kong at the end of the visa period.
Three sample cases:
• Maria and Mike, a Canadian female and male, have been married for six years. Maria obtains a job as a British Council teacher and would receive an employment visa. Mike, who is unemployed, would receive a dependent visa.
• George and Thomas, two British males, were married in the UK in 2014. Both George and Thomas obtain jobs as British Council teachers in Hong Kong. Neither partner requires a dependent visa because both are covered by their employment visas.
• Fiona and Astrid, two South African females, were married in South Africa in 2009. Astrid applies for and receives a job as a British Council Hong Kong teacher. Fiona is unemployed. She would not be eligible for a dependent visa, and would only be granted the 30 days of visa-free access which South Africans receive upon landing, after which her visa status would end (and she would need to leave Hong Kong). Fiona could return because she obtained a job and became eligible for an employment visa, or because she began studying and became eligibile for a student visa.
If your partner does accompany you and is eligible for a dependent visa, there are some opportunities in education, including work in schools and in the tertiary sector. Most of these opportunities are part-time. Opportunities may exist in other fields for those with professional qualifications.’
Several years ago, working into the second year of a primary teacher development project for the British Council in partnership with the client, the Malaysian Ministry of Education, we came back from the school holiday to hear that there was a government initiative encouraging primary teachers and pupils to identify primary schoolchildren displaying signs of what they considered non-standard sexuality. These children were then put on re-education courses designed to realign their perceived sexuality in line with what was the law of the land.
What action should the organisation have taken? What would constitute the minimum acceptable response?
As I write this, the Malaysian government is running a competition with cash prizes for those who produce the best short films to discourage/demonise questioning; i.e. to promote opposite-sex relationships only. Same question: how should the British Council respond? What expectations should be placed on any individual within the country office to respond? What limits should there be to their ability to respond?