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Same-sex couples in Hong Kong to be granted spousal visas in landmark ruling

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The Court of Final Appeal ruled Wednesday in favour of a lesbian expatriate, requiring the city’s Immigration Department to grant same-sex couples spousal visas just as it would for those who are married and heterosexual.

In a landmark ruling the court unanimously dismissed the appeal by the Director of Immigration against a lower court’s ruling, saying the director was wrong to deny the woman, known as QT in court papers, a dependent visa as her civil partnership is not recognised in Hong Kong.

The ruling could have widespread impacts on the talent market as large global firms have struggled to relocate talent due to immigration restrictions. Several major companies including Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, BlackRock, and AIG Insurance tried to join the lawsuit earlier this year. The court, however, did not allow them to do so though.

"This is a win not only for the LGBT community but also for employers and businesses in Hong Kong, whose ability to attract star recruits may have been further impeded by a decision in the alternative," said Kathryn Weaver, Hong Kong-based partner at Lewis Silkin to Human Resources.

"The professional services sector in Hong Kong has long bemoaned the city’s stance on dependent’s visas for same-sex couples as this has restricted their recruitment opportunities, which has not only led to a less diverse talent pool but has been widely considered as unfair and discriminatory.  We hope that with today’s result, we should see even greater diversity and inclusion in the workforce in Hong Kong going forward.  Furthermore, the decision puts Hong Kong ahead of its close competitor Singapore as an attractive country within Asia Pacific to relocate to for work."

A spokeswoman for the Immigration Department said the government respects the decision of the court. She said officials are studying the judgement carefully and shall seek legal advice if necessary before deciding the way forward reported RTHK.

QT was initially denied a dependent visa after her partner took up a job in Hong Kong in 2011. She and her partner identified as SS in court filings had entered into a civil partnership in the UK months before SS took up the job.

QT filed a judicial review against the Director of Immigration in 2015. The following year QT lost at the Court of First Instance, which ruled the case was an attempt to get same-sex marriage recognised. However, the Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s decision, saying that by granting the dependant visa, it would not endanger the institution of marriage. The immigration department then filed the final appeal.

ALSO READ: Community Business announces 2018 Hong Kong LGBT+ Inclusion Awards winners

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