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Many return to Hong Kong as China takes over, seeking residency

June 28, 1997

HONG KONG (AP) _ Ever since Hong Kong’s return to China was set in stone, one of the nightmare scenarios has been a mass exodus of people.

Few ever predicted the opposite, yet it’s happening these days, to judge from the thousands of people flying in from all over the world to claim their right to live in Hong Kong.

Fearing residency rules might change once China takes over at midnight Monday, those wishing to stake their claim line up every day at the immigration office, some arriving as early as 2 a.m.

The scenes outside Immigration Tower amount to a strong show of attachment to Hong Kong, and of confidence in the prospects for its economy under Chinese sovereignty.

Many of the people are Hong Kong-born Chinese who have lived most of their lives in the West, like Mickey Wong and his cousin Magdalena Wong, from Davis, Calif.

Wong, 23, turned up at Immigration Tower at 7 a.m, tired and hungry from having worked all night. He was 85th in line, and hundreds of people soon gathered behind him. His 20-year-old cousin joined him later.

Both were born in the colony, but their parents took them to the United States when they were young.

As a girl, Miss Wong often had heard how lucky she was to be growing up in the United States, far from the hunger and labor camps in China that had forced her parents to flee to Hong Kong and onward.

But now, even her parents are urging her to seek opportunities in her homeland and its booming economy, she said.

``I think my reasons have more to do with economics and culture,″ she said. ``I think I would have an advantage with speaking both English and Chinese, and there are better job opportunities here for those skills.″

The need to come home also stems from living abroad in countries such as the United States, where some foreigners fail to adapt to Western culture or master the English language.

``A lot of people I know weren’t happy in the United States. They got homesick,″ Miss Wong said.

Currently, anyone with a Hong Kong birth certificate can obtain residency here. Those born elsewhere can also apply, but face a longer review process.

No changes after the takeover have been announced, but some fear that China could impose tougher rules, including one requiring people to live here for several years to qualify.

Hong Kong’s return to China also has instilled pride in many ethnic Chinese abroad, bringing them home if not to live here at least to do business in their native tongue and ways.

``I am Chinese, and I’m proud of it. It’s about time the British left so the Chinese can be whole again,″ said Eddie Lee, 51, of New York, who looked bleary-eyed after a 20-hour plane trip from New York a day earlier. He joined the line at 5 a.m.

``I got here as fast as I could,″ he said, because Hong Kong residence would make it easier for him to do business in China.

In addition to the applications, people seeking residency at Immigration Tower must provide mug shots and fingerprints and sit down for three separate interviews.

Miss Wong was rejected when an interviewer found a black pen mark on her birth certificate, making it look like a fake.

``They said I have to get a new birth certificate before I can come back. I don’t believe this,″ she said.

Mickey Wong was luckier.

``It’s over,″ he said.

In about three weeks, he can return for his residency permit. All he’ll have to do is wait in line.

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