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Hong Kong Recognizes Same-Sex Couples in Visa Applications

A Glint of Progress but Government Lags in LGBT Protections

A giant rainbow flag is displayed during Hong Kong's annual pride parade on November 25, 2017. © 2017 Aaron Tam/AFP/Getty Images

The Hong Kong government has implemented a court order to recognize same-sex spouses of residents in visa proceedings.

The case that led to the order, QT v Director of Immigration, began in 2011. “QT,” a female British expatriate was the legally recognized partner of “SS,” another woman, who moved to Hong Kong for work. The Immigration Department only allowed QT to enter Hong Kong on a tourist visa, saying their same-sex union in the UK was not recognized in Hong Kong.

In July, following several hearings before the courts, the Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong’s highest court, ordered the government to recognize same-sex spouses for visa purposes, ruling that immigration officials had committed unlawful discrimination by disallowing QT to join her spouse on a dependent visa as can other expatriate couples in Hong Kong.

As of this week, immigration authorities are carrying out the order—the protections cover expatriate dependents who have had their relationships legally recognized abroad.

The outcome is a major boon to a city that promotes itself as a cosmopolitan international business hub. Hong Kong will host the 2022 Gay Games, the first time the international competition will take place in Asia.

The government’s implementation of the court ruling offers a glint of hope, but Hong Kong officials have in recent months also censored LGBT-themed children’s books. The government has yet to introduce legislation against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation despite an independent government-funded body’s recommendations to do so, or to recognize same-sex unions for marriage, taxation, property, inheritance or other legal purposes.

“It hardly needs to be pointed out that unlawful discrimination is fundamentally unacceptable,” the court’s judgment in QT stated. The question for Hong Kong’s authorities is whether they’re listening and prepared to take the next steps toward fundamental rights for all LGBT residents. 

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