What is the change? Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal has issued a landmark ruling, saying that authorities were wrong to deny a visa to a British national seeking dependent status on the basis of a legally authenticated same-sex partnership.

What does the change mean? The ruling clears the way for same-sex spouses and civil partners to qualify for visas, making Hong Kong one of the first locales in Asia to recognize same-sex marriages relationships for immigration purposes.

  • Implementation time frame: Ongoing.
  • Visas/permits affected: Visas for foreign spouses.
  • Who is affected: Foreign nationals in a same-sex relationship who live in or are relocating to Hong Kong.
  • Business impact: The ruling could help make Hong Kong an attractive option for foreign employees in same-sex relationships 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 initially sided with the immigration authorities in saying the visa denial was appropriate. An appeals court reversed that decision in a 3-0 ruling last fall. The Court of Final Appeal upheld the appeals court ruling, saying that “the ability to bring in dependants is an important issue for persons deciding whether to move to Hong Kong” and that the policy against recognizing same-sex relationships for visa purposes “is not rationally connected with the legitimate objective of strict immigration control.”

BAL Analysis: The ruling is a welcome development for same-sex partners interested in relocating in Hong Kong and makes Hong Kong one of only two locales in Asia, along with Taiwan, to have taken serious steps toward recognizing same-sex partnerships for immigration purposes. Hong Kong’s Immigration Department recently began issuing visas to same-sex dependent spouses and, after the Court of Final Appeal ruling, it is clear that same-sex spouses or civil partners will continue to be eligible for visas. BAL will provide details about the visa application process for same-sex dependent spouses and civil partners as more information becomes available.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group. For additional information, please contact your BAL attorney.

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