A Serial Report on the Marriage Migrants in Hong Kong Ⅰ:
Employment and poverty
Written by Lola Chih-Hsien Huang 黃芷嫻
I.Waiting for working permit
Under the current policies, China marriage migrants (CMMs) are not allowed to work until they get One-Way Permit (OWP) to legally settle in H.K.. In other words, all household expenses and the costs of family reunions only rely on one side of families during the waiting time: 4 years at least. It makes the China-H.K. families (CHKFs), not quite rich and living in such a high-level consumption society in H.K., get worse. As Mei and Wan mentioned, they either “have ate the seeds of grains” or only ate “small hollowware of rice (interview with CMMs, 2011).”
Notallowed to work not only causesheavy burden in household economies but further strengthen the existent social stigmas and stereotypes of being “sponging off men” and “doing nothing” on them, and it affect their self-confidences to: “…down in the dumps, no self-confidence and I am in the fear of looking down on me, “freeload”. I would think about that…I feel mother in law looks down on me because I don’t have a job (interview with CMMs, 2011)”.
Most marriage migrants embrace the simple hope: to get OWP and look for jobs to contribute to household economy. Nevertheless, we will find as below that this reality is due to policies and structural constraints such as hard to find a job, low salaries, no working choices and other difficulties that forcibly weaken up their sweet dreams back to the ruthless reality of being CMMs.
II.Hard to find a job
Majority of CMMs who face the household economic burden want to work to share to the household costs or at least ease up the burden of securing a family. However, the roads to employment or finding jobs are blocked by the existing anti-CMMs policies.
i.To take care of families
According to 2006 census of population it pointed out that labor force participation rate (LFPR) of women who came from Mainland (have stayed in H.K. less than 7 years) is 41.5%, and the low LFPR is attributed to the fact that 71.2% of female are new arrivals from Mainland who took up the role of housewives and home makers (Census and Statistics Department, 2006). More than half (54%) population of new arrivals from Mainland who are in working ages and settled in H.K. is not engaged in economic activities(Panel on Financial Affairs, 2007).
New arrival women, especially CMMs, are in “sandwich-generation” family structures. Even if CMMs live awayfrom the mother and father in law, they also have to shoulder the responsibility to take care of children. According to the statistics, the household members of from the Mainland having resided in Hong Kong for less than 7 years (PMRs) were 3.8 members on average which were larger as compared to the 3.0 for all households, and female PMRs were living with spouses and/or children (82.3%)(Census and Statistics Department, 2006). Taking care of families takes most of their time and it is difficult for CMMs to satisfy their family’s needs and work at the same time. It is even more difficult for them to find stable jobs consistent with their allocation of timebecause CMMs cannot abandon their families.
ii.Lack of children-care services
Most CHKFs worry that no one is available to take care of their children. It is not only restricts CMMs’ mobilities but also reduces their opportunities to work outside. One of the difficulties that some CMMs encountered is once they have babies and then they lose their jobs. Such situations worsen the condition of many single parents and low-income CHKF. CMMs are in urgent needs of earning money to get rid of poverty, it is also the expectation of their families and community which they belong: to not only take care of family well but also to share in household expenses and contribute to society economically. However, CMMs are in dilemmas such as candles burning at ends, works and families.
The statistics Society for Community Organization (SoCo, 2009) showed that the most frequent problem CMMs encountered is children caring (66.7%) when they looked for jobs. Someone is able totake care kids for them is the most important prerequisite for working outside, but H.K. society still lacks of kids caring services. For examples, Child care centers or kindergartens charge the fees monthly varied from 1100HKD to 7700HKD and according to the whole-day or half-day courses (Social Welfare Department, 2011), and the time of the class is from 8:00AM to 7:00PM on every Monday to Friday (Legislative Council, 2006). The families who are not affluent or unable to pay the charges have no choice to nurse children by themselves to decrease household expenses. Furthermore, CMMs are in needs of working outside and they also need to bring kids home by themselves at the same time. CMMs probably can’t look for the child care centers or kindergartens which fees are cheaper and near their place in the considerations of the restrictions of the fee exemption quota, areas, and accommodation of the child care centers or kindergartens.
iii.Educational certifications are not recognized
In addition to the restriction on employment due to family concerns specifically of taking care of children/ families, CMMs get caught in heavy beatings again because of refusal to recognize the educational certifications that they’ve got from Mainland China. CMMs are forced to accept the worse working conditions and setting. 77.1% PMRs were in a junior high school level or higher level (Panel on Financial Affairs, 2007), but “not recognize educational certifications” forced them “start everything from “0”, and (I) may not be able to find a job that I am expert in” (interview with CMMs, 2011). As Din’s experience, her educational certification is higher than junior high school level and owned several salons in China but she is still hard to find a suitable job. Din only relied on odd jobs because of nursing kids and not being recognized educational certifications.
iv.The Failure of proper town planning
CMMs have had the working door slammed in their faces. Such experiences are not due to “inability” or “less education” but actually those experiences are related to the social structures like for instance the failure to implement a proper town planning and imbalance of development between the city and urban areas that caused structural constraints.
According to statistics, more than half (52.4%) PMRs lived in public houses, and 50.9% of them lived in New Territories and Marine (Census and Statistics Department, 2006). To live in New Territories is the first choice for CHKFs who are not rich because the housing rent is relatively cheap. On the other hand, it is very difficult to get the chance for CHKFs to live in the public houses in Hong Kong and Kowloon area not to mention the period of waiting before such application have been approved by the HK government. CHKFs are compelled to live in the public houses in New Territories which are far away from the town or cities but easier to obtain in the considerations of economic reality. However, as we all know job opportunities are few in New Territories and CMMs are experiencing such difficulties in finding jobs in N.T. They are forced to pay a huge transportation fees as a result of an imbalance development between the urban and rural areas.
Besides, basic social services are lacking in some areas where shops and restaurants available are catering to visitors’ need coming from outside instead of serving the needs of locals in the area, like the Tin Shui Wai area: how can the locals who are in the low-level income can cope-up with prices of basic commodities that are relatively expensive for them?
If the imbalance development goes with other structural constraints, for example, taking care of kids, CMMs will be further confined in the abysmal condition where they are hard to find jobs, suffering from durative poverty and hard to break the constraints forced on them as being imprisoned in the ”besieged city”.
III.No working choice
CMMs, who are unable to have full-time jobs due to many structural constraints we mentioned above, can only rely on part-time and odd jobs to survive, but they cannot get the basic workers rights and welfares as well as benefits. Although more than half CMMs, new arrival women, are in the educational level of junior high school or higher than this level, they only are employed as low-technique and low-salary job such as washing dishes, cleaning and charring (Dajiyuan News, 2001). According to the statistics from SoCo(2009), CMMs’ monthly wage was less than 4900HKD on average, and the lowest wage was 800HKD. Approximately 30% CMMs only employed as part-time jobs, the median of the wage per hour was 24.25HKD, the lowest wage per hour only was 16HKD, and the working hours per month were 167 hours on average.
In fact, they don’t have many choices. CMMs, who want to work to improve families’ condition are confronted with the difficulties in finding employment due to take care of families, lacking of children care services, non-recognition of their educational certifications, and failure to implement a well-balance development in many areas and lack of guarantees to be hired in the labor market. They are mainly in employ in low-wage, low-technique and low-guarantee types of jobs.
IV.Why employees retraining are inefficient?
We must recognize that not all CMMs are lacking in having the working experiences and techniques in order to find jobs. As Din, Mei and Wen, Din is an expert in hairdressing and salon, Mei is good at accounting, and even if Wan doesn’t have any professional skills but she have almost 20 years of working experiences in many companies in China. The fundamental problem that many CMM face is that their educational certifications or professional qualifications that they got in China are not recognized by H.K. government. Although, the Employees Retraining Board (ERB) has some skill- training courses and issue certifications, but these courses are limited by reasons of CMMs’ independent needs, such as charges and time constraints.
Like for an instance a placement-tied Courses, there are full-time and half-time courses and “applicants must go through an interview during the enrolment process”. The purpose of the interview is to allow staff members to know more about the applicants and “can ensure the applicant has the qualities required and is interested in the industry concerned” (ERB, 2011). Moreover, the retraining allowance is not available for the half-time courses of placement-tied Courses. Leaving aside the qualities which CMMs are required, CMMs restricted by the time of nursing kids are hardly to choose the full-time courses and get the allowances. Furthermore, the allowances are released after finishing the courses in 1 or 2 months. It goes against going out to work for CMMs in consideration of kids-caring and transportation fees.
The last, although ERB provides various certifications and “Competency Cards”, all of these are notguarantees for jobs or employment: there are cases that many CMMs who live in remote areas are still hard to find jobs even if they had many certifications and “Competency Cards” issued by the training programs of HK government.
V.Get rid of poverty? As difficult as reaching sky
The structural constraints we mentioned above make or worsen the CMMs’ poverty experience.According to the new population policy in 2004, Social Welfare Department (SWD) limited the qualification of CSSA from 1 year to 7 years. It has further deteriorated CMMs’ situations and alleviating themselves from of poverty impossible. More than that persons that ranges 15~59 years-old should be issued with healthy applicants by CSSA if their “monthly income is not less than 1685HKD and their working hours per month are not less than 120 hours” since February 1, 2011.
It is very difficult for CMMs, especially those who need to nurse their kids, to find a job with monthly working hours of more than 120 hrs. According to regulations, the applicants who are in unemployment or monthly income/ working hours are substandard have to participate in Support for Self-reliance (SFS) Scheme to get CSSA(LC Paper, 2007). In other words, CMMs, who are in effort to find jobs but restricted by structural constraints, are required to looking for jobs constantly to provide how “active” they are for jobs and report their duty to SWD. Undoubtedly, it created CMMs’ extra burden because they always bring kids with them.
CMMs were labeled as occupants of the social resources due to their application for CSSA. However, the population of CMMs who applied for CSSA’s support was very small proportion compared to the population of all applicants in H.K., and those CMMs were still hardly free themselves from poverty even if they got CSSA’s support for reasons and factors that we mentioned above. The data of SWD in 2005 showed that there were 42000 applicants of CSSA, new arrivals’ application were only 1580 cases, and 198 applicants of them were approved from 2004 to 2005 (LC Paper, 2006). In other words, the proportion of new arrivals’ applications was 3.7% of all applications, and approved cases actually were 0.47% of all cases.
CMMs are not allowed to work before they get One Way Permit, and then other factors such as lack of kid-caring services, non-recognition of educational certification, the failure to implement a well balance development in town planning resulted to none working choices for CMMs but to be employed in low salary, technological, and guaranteed type of jobs. On one hand, ERB has its limitations and are unable to provide a guarantee for employment. On the other hand, there are many barriers for CSSA application and these cause burdens for CMMs or further aggravate the already wrong stereotypes about CMMs and it worsens their situation in public. CMMs plug in such vicious cycle without exit where they experience hardships in finding jobs and getting rid of poverty because of the existing policy and other structural factors. Unfortunately, the general public attributes these structural factors to CMMs and blames them for failures of getting rid of the structural constraints by themselves.
Interview with CMMs, 2011
Panel on Financial Affairs, 2007.《2007年半年經濟報告》
Society for Community Organization ,SoCo, 2009. 《新移民婦女就業情況及困難調查報告》
Census and Statistics Department, 2006. “Thematic Report: Persons from the Mainland Having Resided in Hong Kong for Less Than 7 Years”, 2006 Population By-census.
Social Welfare Department, 2011
Employees Retraining Board, 2011
Legislative Council, 2006. Paper No. CB(2) 1852/05-06(01)
, 2007. Paper No CB(2)1007/06-07(05)
Dajiyuan News, 2001, ＜新來港婦女求職難＞
 All CMMs’ name quoted in this research are not real names in order to protect them.
 PMRs we used in this research as below means persons who (i) were born in the Mainland of China; (ii) were with nationality “Chinese (place of domicile – Hong Kong)”; and (iii) had stayed in Hong Kong for less than seven years.