Banks back lesbians in visa battle

Top News | Phoebe Ng 8 Jun 2017

A dozen major businesses including banks are backing a British lesbian in a legal battle against the Immigration Department over denial of a dependant visa for her same-sex spouse.

They have filed an application with the Court of Appeal, due to be heard late next week.

The Immigration Department has twice rejected a dependant visa application from QT - as she is referred to in court - after her partner, SS, was offered a job in the city. After losing a judicial review, QT decided to appeal against the decision.

The multinational firms stepped in because it "relates to the issue of granting of dependant visas to those in foreign registered same-sex marriages and civil partnerships," their representative said.

It is the policy of the 12 financial companies to "promote diversity and inclusion" and hence seek to provide "an employer's perspective" to the court, says their law firm, Davis Polk & Wardwell.

"They all seek to attract and hire top talent from around the world in line with their diversity policies in order to maintain our position in the world talent marketplace," the international law firm said yesterday.

"By applying to intervene, they seek to assist the court by giving a more rounded picture of the issues than it would otherwise obtain."

The 12 include Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, AIG Insurance and Nomura, according to their statement.

It will be up to the court to decide whether to allow the third-party intervention.

The two women obtained a civil partnership in Britain in 2011, which gives them the same rights and responsibilities as a married couple under British law.

They moved to Hong Kong the same year, but QT has been refused a dependant visa because the department does not recognize same-sex marriage.

The visa is for a spouse, an unmarried dependant child under 18 and a parent aged 60 or over of a Hong Kong resident not subject to a limit of stay, according to the Immigration Department.

Although the Court of First Instance granted permission for a judicial review, the application was eventually rejected by Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung in March last year.

Au said there was no question of discrimination based on sexual orientation in the case.

"To effectively accept a same-sex marriage-like relationship to be equivalent to a married status in Hong Kong is not permissible under the laws of Hong Kong as they now stand," Au said.

"Married persons and unmarried persons are in a sufficiently different situation to justify the differential treatment under the policy."

QT's appeal against the judgment has been set for next Thursday and Friday in the Court of Appeal. She will be represented by British human rights lawyer Dinah Rose, QC.

The government's counsel will be Monica Carss-Frisk, QC.

Raymond Chan Chi-chuen, the SAR's only openly gay legislator, said the application of intervention was encouraging.

"Hong Kong should be more tolerant and have favorable policies for homosexuals to enhance competitiveness of the city," he said.

Chan called on the government to consider legalizing civil union, saying it would only face more judicial reviews otherwise.

Fern Ngai, chief executive of non- profit body Community Business, said intolerance towards sexual minorities is harmful to Hong Kong's competitiveness.

"It is not only about a company's ability to attract foreign talent to work in Hong Kong, it also puts off home-grown talent," Ngai said.

However, the proportion of companies supporting LGBT rights is still small, Ngai said.

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