For Hong Kong residents working in the Mainland, how to enjoy local welfare benefits remains one of the key problems. Statistics showed that more than half a million Hong Kong people have settled in the Mainland, and over 15,000 Hong Kong students are studying in its universities. Compared with the population of Hong Kong, it is a considerable number, although they are scattered across the country. The further integration of Hong Kong and the Mainland, especially the development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area (GBA), requires more freedom of movement in this area, but one of the key limitations is the difference in the systems the social security and welfare between Mainland and Hong Kong and their portability.
For a long time, Hong Kong people living in the Mainland were neither able to enjoy social security for the Mainland residents nor to enjoy welfare benefits from Hong Kong. In recent years, the central and local authorities have introduced many measures of convenience for Hong Kong people in the Mainland to solve the issues of social security. At present, Hong Kong people in the Mainland can already pay the so-called “five types of insurances and one housing fund ” (retirement insurance, medical insurance, unemployment insurance, industrial injury insurance, maternity insurance, and housing accumulation fund) to enjoy the corresponding social security benefits. However, these policies only unilaterally address the welfare of Hong Kong people in the Mainland and have not loomed the issue of interlinking and portability of social welfare between the two sides.
The Greater Bay Area is an “experimental zone” for Hong Kong people to integrate into the national development strategy, where the most important element of the “four flows” (people, logistics, funds, information) is the people, but this movement of people is not the traditional meaning of “migration”. For Hong Kong people, it is the new model of employment and living across the two sides under the condition that the language and culture are relatively homogeneous, and large-scale infrastructure is in place. This is not only a policy coordination between the two sides in a traditional sense but also a new subject in the practice of the “One Country, Two Systems.”
It is impractical to establish a unified social security system under the “One Country, Two Systems”. There are two solutions for Hong Kong people，one is to enjoy social security directly in the Mainland, but it will increase the burden on the cities of the Mainland, and Hong Kong people have yet to build up confidence in certain service, such as medical care. Second , allow Hong Kong people to enjoy social welfare in the GBA and, even more broadly to other places in the Mainland, so it is to deal with several issues conveniently. Such as cross-boundary payments and related audits should be addressed in the distribution of the cash benefit (e.g. the Old Age Allowance) , and for the welfare services (mainly including health care, education, and care for the elderly), it is to deal with several issues such as the service quality, staff training, and Hong Kong people’s trust.
Welfare portability is not a unique issue in Hong Kong under “One Country, Two Systems”, but a phenomenon of universality. Even in the Mainland social security system, there are uniform provisions of the Social Security Law, but the proportion of social insurance payment and welfare benefits are determined by the local governments according to the level of local economic and social development, where the income and expenditure system has also been independent for a long time. Hence, when residents from one place go to another, they will encounter the problem of using social insurance such as medical care and endowment. In recent years, the Mainland government’s efforts to promote the national interconnection of social security is to solve the problem of the “social welfare portability”. The medical insurance achieved national networking in September 2017, which enabled residents in the Mainland to settle the medical expenses off-site among the designated hospitals nationwide, according to the standards of their medical insurance location.
The Hong Kong government has attempted to solve the problem of welfare portability. Since 2013 and 2018 respectively, the Social Welfare Department has carried out the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme in Guangdong and Fujian, which provides the Old Age Allowances, commonly known as the “Fruit Money”, to elderly people aged 65 or above who have emigrated to these two provinces, from which more than 18,000 people have benefited. However, this policy is not completely portable welfare, but the receiving account is still located in Hong Kong, which cannot be deposited directly into the Mainland account in. This only solves the problem of the eligibility for welfare benefits for the cross-boundary Hong Kong people, instead of the real “portability”. The Hong Kong government has been conducting elderly health care vouchers applied in the Mainland hospitals at the University of Hong Kong – Shenzhen Hospital since 2015, but it is unable for retired Hong Kong people who live farther away to enjoy the convenience.
The Hong Kong government should comprehensively examine the issues of the portability of social welfare and provide social security for Hong Kong people of all ages and classes in the GBA and the entire Mainland China from a long-term perspective, and provide a set of institutionalized programs for the elderly, medical care and schooling. Such cross-boundary welfare benefits arrangements cannot be completed unilaterally by the Hong Kong government, and it requires the coordination of resources and policies with the central government and local governments in the Mainland.
There should be a broader vision in the medical field and not be limited to the use of elderly health care voucher in the Mainland. Hong Kong’s medical services should set up branches at the Greater Bay Area. In various forms, low-cost and high-quality medical services are provided to them in the Greater Bay Area, for instance, they need to consider signing agreements with hospitals in areas where Hong Kong people are more concentrated, with a purpose to provide qualified Hong Kong people with services comparable to Hong Kong public hospitals.
The problem of cross-boundary portability of welfare benefits is ostensibly the coordination and implementation of specific policies, but in fact, it involved the deep-seated identity issue in “One Country, Two Systems.”
The idea of “One Country, Two Systems” is on the premise of the separation between the Mainland and Hong Kong systems in the first place. The two sides have different political, economic, and social systems, with different identities and rights of the residents (in most cases, the rights of Hong Kong and Macao compatriots are relatively enormous, and the obligations are relatively minor). Despite the growing economic interdependence between Hong Kong and the Mainland, cross-boundary economic activities of enterprise and professionals between the two sides and large-scale off-site employment and living of residents have not emerged, so the related issues of cross-boundary portability of welfare benefits have not come into the public agenda. In most countries and regions, the benefits enjoyed by residents are based on their identity and their geographical location. The provision of cross-boundary welfare benefits in the Greater Bay Area presents a good vision of Hong Kong’s social policy integration into the overall picture of the nation. Hong Kong people in the Mainland can either choose to participate in the Social Security System in the Mainland or enjoy Hong Kong social welfare. If Hong Kong people in the Mainland participate in retirement protection and can easily extract it after they return to Hong Kong, then they can integrate freely and without concern into the Great Bay Area.
From Henry Ho & Gordon Lam (ed.) A Debate of Two Systems, p.103
Original from：Forum page, Ming Pao