South Asians in Hong Kong

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South Asians in Hong Kong
Total population
(30,444 Indians;
20,864 Nepalis;
16,776 Pakistanis[1])
Regions with significant populations
Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and South New Territories
English, Urdu, Hindi, Sindhi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Nepali, Cantonese
Hinduism, Buddhism, Sunni Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Bahá'í Faith, Christianity.
Related ethnic groups
Overseas Pakistani, Non-resident Indian and person of Indian origin, Non Resident Nepali

The numbers of Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans were not individually broken out in the 2006 By-Census Thematic Report on Ethnic Minorities, from which the above statistics originate. The total population of "Other Asians", which may include members of those two groups, was 7,851.

Hong Kong has a long-established South Asian population. As of the 2006 by-census, there were at least 44,744 persons of South Asian descent in Hong Kong.[1] Many trace their roots in Hong Kong as far back as when most of the Indian subcontinent was still under British colonial rule, and as a legacy of the British Empire, their nationality issues remain largely unsettled. However, recently an increasing number of them have acquired Chinese nationality.


South Asians were in Hong Kong since 1841. Sikhs soldiers participated at the flag raising ceremony at Possession Point, Hong Kong in 1841 when the Captain Elliot declared Hong Kong a British possession. Sikhs, Parsis and other South Asians made many contributions to the well-being of Hong Kong. The earliest policemen in Hong Kong were Indians (Sikhs) and the present police force still have some few South Asians, as well as Europeans. The top Hong Kong civil servant was once an Indian Mr. Harnam Singh Grewal (a Sikh), whose family history in Hong Kong dates back to the late 1800s, was the Secretary for Transport and the Secretary for Civil Service in the 1980s.

Many of Hong Kong's century old institutions have been founded with considerable South Asian participation, as the following examples suggest. The University of Hong Kong was founded on funds partially provided by an Indian Sir H.N. Mody, a close friend of the then governor. The 100-year-old Star Ferry was founded by Dorabji Naorojee. South Asians also founded the Ruttonjee Hospital, Mr. Belilos (a Baghdadi Jew) is one of the founders of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, Mr. Kadoorie owns the China Light and Power Company. Mr. Harilela (a Sindhi) owns the Holiday Inn Golden Mile while Mr. Chellaram is in Shipowning.

Nationality and right of abode[edit]

British nationality[edit]

Despite its participation in treaties for reduction of statelessness, the British government has not dealt with issues of nationality of South Asians in Hong Kong properly. The countries of ancestry have also been criticised as slow in addressing this matter. The difficulty in re-establishing their country of ancestry is multifold: Apart from wars for decolonisation, their places of ancestry have been engaged in numerous conflicts. Some of these people have been subjected to transportation as a punishment or sent to penal colonies, making their genealogy difficult to trace. However, a number of South Asians have been able to obtain the nationalities of the countries in South Asia which became independent after their ancestors' departures.[citation needed]

Unlike the majority people of Chinese descent, who were seen by the incoming Chinese administration as always having been Chinese citizens, the ethnic minorities, including South Asians, would be left only with BN(O) status, which amounted to effective statelessness due to the lack of guarantee of returnability to the United Kingdom or anywhere else and the lack of ability to pass the status on to descendants beyond one generation.[2][3] With their citizenship in limbo, by the 1990s many Indians in Hong Kong reportedly would not even marry among themselves, preferring to look overseas for potential spouses with foreign passports.[4] Some rich South Asians were granted full British citizenship under the British Nationality Selection Scheme, but the Home Office opposed a blanket grant for fears of the precedent it might set. Younger Indians formed lobbying groups such as the Indian Resources Group to press their case with the British government. They emphasised that their members had not applied for emigration to other countries such as Canada or the United States, and would be unlikely to settle in Britain were they granted citizenship; instead, they intended to remain in Hong Kong, and believed that British citizenship would facilitate this aim.[5]

In the end, the British government formally agreed to grant citizenship to any BN(O), BDTC, or other British subject who had no other citizenship on 4 February 1997. Thus, most stateless people of Indian origin were able to obtain British citizen passports.[2] However, confusion over the interaction of British and Indian nationality laws effectively rendered this promise useless in roughly 200 cases, all minors who had acquired Indian citizenship at birth and later became BN(O)s by registration. Indian nationality law provides that any Indian citizen acquiring foreign citizenship by naturalisation or registration loses his citizenship of India; only Indians who acquired foreign citizenship by reason of birth could hold dual citizenship. The Indian government stated that people who had acquired BN(O) status by birth remained Indian citizens until age 18. However, BN(O) status is not acquired by birth, meaning that every single Indian adult or minor who registered as a BN(O) lost his Indian citizenship. Notwithstanding that, the British Home Office used the Indian government's statement as a basis for denying full British citizenship to people who were minors on 4 February 1997; the Home Office misunderstood India's dual citizenship provisions to mean that they were still entitled to Indian citizenship on that date, when in fact they were not.[6] More than a decade after the handover, they have not naturalised as Chinese citizens; instead, they continue to hold only BN(O) passports in hopes of being able to attain the full British citizenship that was promised to them.[3]

Chinese nationality[edit]

Naturalisation approval rates of different groups, July 1997 − November 2012[7]
Nationality Applications Approvals Approval
Total 15,518 12,658 81.6%
Pakistani 4,536 3,411 75.2%
Indian 3,224 2,487 77.1%
Vietnamese 1,593 1,115 70.0%
Filipino 570 387 67.9%
Others 5,595 5,258 94.0%

The Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China began to apply in the HKSAR when it was established on 1 July 1997 in accord with Hong Kong Basic Law Article 18 and Annex III, with some differences from the application of the same law in mainland China, due to explanations of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.[8] That put the Immigration Department in charge of administering the Nationality Law within the SAR.

Although China did not agree to a blanket grant of citizenship to South Asians settled in Hong Kong, it empowered the Hong Kong Immigration Department to naturalise Hong Kong residents as Chinese citizens. Prior to 2002, the Hong Kong Immigration Department discouraged South Asians and other ethnic minorities from taking this course, with immigration officers reportedly refusing to even give them the forms to fill in (thus they would not show up in rejection statistics). It took until December 2002 to see the first case of successful naturalisation application by an ethnic minority resident with no Chinese relatives, an Indian girl, followed by a Pakistani man.[9][10]

Other high-profile South Asians such as aspiring politician Abdull Ghafar Khan and the wife of Gill Mohindepaul Singh have continued to experience rejections of their naturalisation applications as well, leading to an August 2012 letter of concern from then-Equal Opportunities Commissioner Eden Lam to the Immigration Department.[11] Several affected South Asian residents contacted their legislators seeking relief, leading to a Legislative Council question later that year by Claudia Mo of the Civic Party to Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok. Lai's response revealed that from July 1997 to November 2012, Pakistanis and Indians formed more than half of the applicants for naturalisation, and had an approval rate higher than Vietnamese or Filipinos, but far lower than the applicant pool excluding those four groups.[7]

Those who are born in Hong Kong to stateless parents are entitled to Chinese nationality at birth under Article 6 of the Chinese nationality law.


The South Asians of Hong Kong include various subgroups owing to their diverse geographic, linguistic, and religious origins. In colloquial usage in Hong Kong, they are often referred to as "Indians", regardless of their geographic origins. This is because most South Asian communities in Hong Kong date back to before the partition of British India.


Hindus from India have long been living in Hong Kong before the Partition of India. There are Hindus from Pakistan as well as Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Hinduism is the most followed religion by South Asians in Hong Kong.


Pakistani and Indian Muslims have been living in Hong Kong long before the partition of India. They migrated to Hong Kong and worked as police officers as well as army officers during colonial rule. 25,000 of these Muslims trace their roots back to Faisalabad and Attock, Punjab Pakistan. Half of them belong to 'local boy' families, Muslims of mixed Chinese and South Asian ancestry, descended from early Indian/Pakistani Muslim immigrants who took local Chinese(Tanka) wives and brought their children up as Muslims.[12][13] These "local Indians" were not completely accepted by either the Chinese or Indian communities.[14]


Main article: Nepalese in Hong Kong

Nepali people in Hong Kong are mainly the children of ex-Gurkhas born in Hong Kong during their parents' service with the British Army's Brigade of Gurkhas, which was based in Hong Kong from the 1970s until the handover. Large groups can be found in Shek Kong, Yuen Long District, Jordan and Yau Ma Tei one of the main bases of the British army. Many ex-Gurkhas remained in Hong Kong after the end of their service under the sponsorship of their Hong Kong-born children, who held right of abode. They often work as security guards for companies such as G4s, CNT, Guardforce, Sunkoshi Gurkha Security Ltd., and Afc.


The Sindhi people in Hong Kong, part of the worldwide Sindhi diaspora originate from the Sindh, an area which now lies in modern-day Pakistan due to the partition of India. The Sindhi community in Hong Kong are viewed as one of the wealthiest among the South Asian communities in Hong Kong, and have historically played an important role in trade, especially in import and export business with Africa and the Middle East.


A Sikh passenger on an MTR train.

A smaller group, numbering about 7500, Sikhs in Hong Kong originate from the Punjab region in India and Pakistan. They adhere to Sikhism, and unlike the Sindhi population, historically held occupations as guards, police officers, watchmen, and soldiers. More recently, they have held occupations as lawyers, doctors and in major financial sectors in Hong Kong. The Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple serves the religious needs of the Sikh community.


Further information: Jainism in Hong Kong

There are about 500 Jains in Hong Kong, who immigrated to Hong Kong later than most other Indian groups. They mostly originate from the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Their community grew rapidly during the 1980s. The Jains are most prominent in the diamond trading business. In 1996, members of the community founded a Jain temple, Shree Hong Kong Jain Sangh.


Parsis are descended from a minority of the Gujarat ethnic group in India that traces their ancestry back to Persia (Iran) and they adhere to the Zoroastrian religion. Historically, they were one of the first group of Indians to settle in Hong Kong, prospering as traders, merchants, and opium shippers and as such the group now occupies a secure economic status. The number of Parsis remain relatively small; a 2002 survey counted less than 200 individuals, up from 80–90 individuals in 1952, which has led them to establish stronger ties with the larger Indian community in Hong Kong.


Further information: Indians in Hong Kong

Other Indian groups in Hong Kong include Tamils, Marathi people, and Malayali people Malayali Association of HK.


The South Asians of Hong Kong are usually multilingual, with many attaining trilingual fluency or more. Most are fluent in both English and a mother tongue (such as Sindhi, Gujarati or Punjabi), and many are fluent in Hindi, and/or Urdu as well. In addition, some may also study Sanskrit, Arabic or (for the Parsis) Avestan for religious reasons. The command of Cantonese is more variable; one 2006 survey of South Asian parents with children attending school in Hong Kong showed that more than 80% were illiterate in Chinese, while 60% could not speak Cantonese at all.[15]

Hongkongers of South Asian origin[edit]

((M.M.KHAN of Hong Kong Police Force))

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Thematic Report: Ethnic Minorities" (PDF). Publications and Products of the 2006 Population By-census. Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong (xvi). 28 December 2007. Retrieved 23 January 2008. 
  2. ^ a b Reuters TV, 4 February 1997, retrieved 28 May 2011  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ a b "Britain considers offering citizenship to HK ethnic minorities". Radio Australia. 31 March 2009. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  4. ^ Deane, Daniela (1 July 1993), "Hong Kong Minorities Fear Their Stateless Future", The Washington Post, retrieved 28 May 2011 
  5. ^ Vidyadharan, Aravind (1996), "Indians anxious about Chinese takeover of Hong Kong", Rediff News, retrieved 28 May 2011 
  6. ^ The Lord Avebury; Tameem Ebrahim (6 December 2004). "Citizenship Denied: The stateless British children of Hong Kong" (PDF). Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  7. ^ a b Claudia Mo; Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok (12 December 2012). "LCQ2: Applications for naturalisation as Chinese nationals". Legislative Council of Hong Kong. Retrieved 9 April 2013. ; the statistical tables may be found in the two annexes linked in the right sidebar
  8. ^ Explanations of some questions by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress concerning the implementation of the Nationality Law of the PRC in the HKSAR.Immigration Department.
  9. ^ Shamdasani, Ravina (2 December 2002). "HK-born to Indian parents, but Vekha is now Chinese; Nationality and a passport granted to girl in the first case of its kind". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  10. ^ Shamdasani, Ravina (15 December 2002). "First Hong Kong Pakistani gets Chinese nationality". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  11. ^ "香港仔巴漢申特區護照被拒 (Aberdeen Pakistani man's application for SAR passport refused)". Ming Pao. 14 August 2012. Retrieved 14 August 2012. 
  12. ^ Weiss, Anita M. (July 1991). "South Asian Muslims in Hong Kong: Creation of a 'Local Boy' Identity". Modern Asian Studies. 25 (3): 417–53. doi:10.1017/S0026749X00013895. 
  13. ^ Ina Baghdiantz McCabe, Gelina Harlaftis, Iōanna Pepelasē Minoglou (2005). Diaspora Entrepreneurial Networks: Four Centuries of History. Berg Publishers. p. 256. ISBN 1-85973-880-X. 
  14. ^ Carol R. Ember, Melvin Ember, Ian A. Skoggard (2004). Encyclopedia of Diasporas: Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World. Springer. p. 511. ISBN 0-306-48321-1. 
  15. ^ "社工﹕南亞裔家長遇語言問題 學校「你死你賤」缺支援". Ming Pao. 24 July 2006. Retrieved 11 December 2006. [dead link]

Further reading[edit]

  • Champa Detaramani and Graham Lock (2003). "Multilingualism in Decline: Language Repertoire, Use and Shift in Two Hong Kong Indian Communities". Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 24 (4): 249–273. doi:10.1080/01434630308666501.  [1]
  • Caroline Plüss (2005). "Constructing Globalized Ethnicity: Migrants from India in Hong Kong". International Sociology. 20 (2): 201–224. doi:10.1177/0268580905052369.  [2]
  • Weiss, Anita M. (July 1991). "South Asian Muslims in Hong Kong: Creation of a 'Local Boy' Identity". Modern Asian Studies. 25 (3): 417–453. doi:10.1017/S0026749X00013895. 
  • White, Barbara-Sue (1994). Turbans and Traders: Hong Kong's Indian Communities. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195852875. 

External links[edit]