IMPACT – MEDIUM

What is the change? A three-judge panel on Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal has ruled that authorities were wrong to deny a visa to a British national seeking dependent status on the basis of a same-sex partnership.

What does the change mean? The ruling could clear the way for same-sex spouses and partners to qualify as dependents for immigration purposes. However, the decision may be appealed to the Court of Final Appeal.

  • Implementation time frame: Ongoing.
  • Visas/permits affected: Dependent’s visas for foreign spouses.
  • Who is affected: Foreign nationals in a same-sex relationship who are relocating to Hong Kong.
  • Business impact: If the ruling is upheld, Hong Kong could be an attractive option for foreign employees in same-sex marriages or partnerships who are relocating to Asia.

Background: The case involved a British woman identified as QT who entered into a same-sex civil partnership in the United Kingdom in 2011 before moving to Hong Kong. Authorities denied QT a dependent’s visa, saying she did not qualify as a spouse for immigration purposes. QT sued, and a lower court sided with the immigration authorities in saying the visa was appropriate. The appeals court reversed that decision in a 3-0 decision, with Judge Andrew Cheung writing that there was no rational reason for the visa denial. “Times have changed and an increasing number of people are no longer prepared to accept the status quo without critical thought,” he wrote. If the case is upheld, Hong Kong would be one of the first locales in Asia to offer dependent status to foreign nationals on the basis of a same-sex relationship.

BAL Analysis: Same-sex marriage is not recognized in Hong Kong, but the court ruling means that same-sex relationships recognized in foreign countries may be honored in Hong Kong for immigration purposes. It is not yet clear, however, whether the ruling will be appealed and, if so, how much longer it might be before the litigation is complete.