Indians in Hong Kong

Indians in Hong Kong
Traditional Chinese 香港印度人

Hong Kong has been the place of settlement for Indians for a long time. Some of them have lived there for many generations, and consider Hong Kong as their home.

Brief history

The history of Indians in Hong Kong can be traced back to the early days of British Hong Kong. When the Union flag of the United Kingdom was hoisted on 26 January 1841, there were around 2,700[1] Indian troops that participated, and they played an important role in the development of Hong Kong in the early days. The most prominent contributions were the founding of the University of Hong Kong (HKU)[2] and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC).[3] The Star Ferry was also founded by Indians in 1888. In 1952 business leaders of the Indian community founded the Indian Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong (ICCHK). It aims to promote and improve the image of Indian trade in Hong Kong and Southern China.


Many people of Indian origin once held British passports like this, issued to British Dependent Territories Citizens

Indians in Hong Kong include citizens of the Republic of India, British citizens, and a small number of stateless persons and naturalised citizens of the People's Republic of China.

According to the statistics of the Republic of India's High Level Committee on Indian Diaspora, among Hong Kong residents there are 22,000 Indian citizens and 28,500 non-citizen Persons of Indian Origin (people with origins in British India, including places which lie outside today's Republic of India, and having citizenships of countries other than the Republic of India. Note that this number may include people who consider themselves as Pakistanis, Nepalis, or other South Asian nationalities).[4] The citizenship of Hong Kong residents of Indian descent who lacked Republic of India citizenship was a major point of contention in the years leading up to the handover. Many Indians had settled in Hong Kong, taking it as their only home and naturalising as Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKCs). This status initially made no distinctions between residents of the United Kingdom and elsewhere, but from the 1960s onwards a number of nationality acts successively scraped away the privileges it offered, creating a class of CUKCs who had no right of abode in the United Kingdom itself. Eventually in 1981, these restrictions were codified in a new class of British citizenship, the British Dependent Territories Citizenship (BDTC). Furthermore, as this status would cease to be effective after the 1997 handover, the British government created the new status of British National, a restricted form of British nationality which also did not grant right of abode in the United Kingdom. By 1985, out of about 14,000 Indians settled in Hong Kong, 6,000 were BDTCs.[5]

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 Indians, 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.[6][7] 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.[8] Some rich Indians 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.[9]

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.[6] 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.[10] 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.[7]

A small proportion of Indians have availed themselves of naturalisation as Chinese citizens, which according to law can be requested by any Hong Kong permanent resident who has Chinese relatives, who has settled there, or who has other legitimate reasons, and who is willing to renounce all foreign citizenships. Prior to 2002, the Hong Kong Immigration Department discouraged Indians 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.[11][12] Immigration Department statistics provided to the Legislative Council at various times show that from July 1997 to April 2005, only 552 Indian citizens applied for naturalisation as Chinese citizens, while from May 2005 to November 2012, nearly five times as many (2,672) applied. In total, among the 3,224 Indians who applied for naturalisation from July 1997 to November 2012, 2,487 (77.1%) had their applications accepted.[13][14][15] Persons of Indian origin who are citizens of China, or any of whose ancestors were ever citizens of China, are not eligible to obtain a Persons of Indian Origin Card.[16]

Occupational history

Some famous Indians are Hormusjee Naorojee Mody, Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala and Jehangir Hormusjee Ruttonjee who arrived independently in the course of trade from Bombay and Gujarat.

In the pre-war period, most of the Indians took part in the army. Before the Second World War, nearly 60% of the police forces were Sikhs. Also, some Indians have established businesses in Hong Kong. The Harilela family runs one of the best-known business groups.[17]

After the war, the number of Indians taking up positions at government sections had declined as most of the Indians were no longer citizens of the British colony after India gained independence in 1947. A large number of Sikh policemen left Hong Kong and about 150 Punjabi Muslim and Pathan worked in the police force in 1952.[18] Meanwhile, other Indian communities such as Marwaris and Tamil Muslims came to Hong Kong for trading.

More Indians stepped into the fields like international companies, banking, airlines, travel agents, medical, media and insurance sector.[18] The banking and financial sector had the strongest presence of Indian professionals. Information technology and telecommunications have also interested highly qualified Indians. In the 1950s, tailoring had become an industry that was popular with Indians and around 200 tailoring shops were owned by them at that time. After 2005, there have been a growing number of diamond merchants from Gujarat who have settled in Hong Kong and have formed groups like Sarjan Group, GGHK group and Gujarati Samaj for sports and cultural activities. Gujarati Diamond Merchants are one of the richest and most affluent groups among Hong Kong Indians who own costly properties such as hotels, houses and offices near Tsim Sha Tsui and Laguna Verde in Hung Hom.

Life in Hong Kong

The Indians scattered and worked in different areas of Hong Kong. Some of them are permanent citizens. As they are one of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong with diverse cultures, languages and religions.

Languages, communities, and worship

Due to different cultural backgrounds, Indians have their own languages such as Gujarati, Sindhi, Bengali, Tamil, and Punjabi. But most of them are fluent in English, and some in Cantonese as well.

Among respondents to the 2011 Census who self-identified as Indian, 37.2% stated that they spoke English as their usual language, 4.6% Cantonese, and 57.9% some other language. With regards to additional spoken languages other than their usual language, 52.0% stated that they spoke English, 30.7% Cantonese, and 7.0% Mandarin. (Multiple responses were permitted to the latter question, hence the responses are non-exclusive.) 10.8% did not speak English as either their usual language nor an additional language, while the respective figures for Cantonese and Mandarin were 64.7% and 93.0%.[19]

Diversity of work

There are many Indians running different kinds of businesses in Hong Kong. On Nathan Road and Mody Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, there are a lot of tailoring and retailing shops. Also, around 15% restaurants in Hong Kong are operated by Indians.[20] Recently, many of them are teachers or owners of Yoga centres.

For most Indians in Hong Kong, occupations vary according to their education level and family status. The majority of them are managers, administrative officers and technological fields like Engineers.[21]

Positions Indians Pakistanis Nepalese Working force of HK
Managers and Administrative officers 31.2% 9.2% 1.1% 10.7%
Professionals/ assistant professionals 22.3% 6.9% 4.3% 20.9%
Clerk, tertiary industry 18.1% 14.2% 20.7% 31.3%
Craftsmanship / Machine control related 4.9% 24.4% 29.2% 17.2%
Non technological fields 23.2% 45.2% 44.6% 19.5%

(Source: “香港南亞裔概況”, the Census and Statistics Department, 2001)

The percentage of Indians earning less than $4,000 per month or more than $30,000 per month is higher than that in the total working force of Hong Kong, or other South Asian nationalities. This reveals a bimodal income distribution.

Salary range Indians Pakistanis Nepalese Working force of HK
<4000 11.9% 2.9% 7.3% 10.4%
4,000-9,000 24.7% 51.4% 41.1% 32.8%
10,000-14,999 15.6% 27.8% 37.1% 23%
15,000-19,999 9.8% 6.4% 11% 11.5%
20,000-24,999 8.2% 4.5% 2.2% 7.8%
25,000-29,999 4.2% 1.3% 0.8% 3.4%
≧30,000 25.6% 5.8% 0.6% 11.1%

(Source: “香港南亞裔概況”, the Census and Statistics Department, 2001)

Labour legislation in Hong Kong

The Employment Agencies Administration of the Labour Department is responsible for administering Part XII of the Employment Ordinance and the Employment Agency Regulations.[22] They co-operate with some Individual Consulate Generals in Hong Kong to process contracts for workers while the absence of the participation of India may make it more difficult for the Indians to get a job in Hong Kong through the institutions.

Local Indians have integrated well in Hong Kong. They are not only physically rooted in Hong Kong, but also a part of Hong Kong society. They engage in talk shows, dramas, art exhibitions or TV programs. Also, there is a group of Sikhs who set up the Sahib Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji Educational Trust for the local Indians.


  1. Kwok S. T., Narain, K. (2003).Co-Prosperity in Cross-Culturalism: Indians in Hong Kong.P.18
  2. Kwok S. T., Narain, K. (2003).Co-Prosperity in Cross-Culturalism: Indians in Hong Kong.P.32
  3. Kwok S. T., Narain, K. (2003).Co-Prosperity in Cross-Culturalism: Indians in Hong Kong.P.22
  4. Report of the High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora, 2000. See specifically Part I page xlvii; as well see Report of the High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora, Chapter 21 pages 281–283.
  5. "Official Report of Proceedings" (PDF). Hong Kong Legislative Council. 12 April 1985. Retrieved 25 May 2011.
  6. 1 2 Reuters TV, 4 February 1997, retrieved 28 May 2011 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. 1 2 "Britain considers offering citizenship to HK ethnic minorities". Radio Australia. 31 March 2009. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  8. Deane, Daniela (1 July 1993), "Hong Kong Minorities Fear Their Stateless Future", The Washington Post, retrieved 28 May 2011
  9. Vidyadharan, Aravind (1996), "Indians anxious about Chinese takeover of Hong Kong", Rediff News, retrieved 28 May 2011
  10. The Lord Avebury; Tameem Ebrahim (6 December 2004). "Citizenship Denied: The stateless British children of Hong Kong" (PDF). Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  11. 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.
  12. Shamdasani, Ravina (15 December 2002). "First Hong Kong Pakistani gets Chinese nationality". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  13. 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
  14. "Applications for naturalisation as Chinese nationals". 18 May 2005. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  15. "本港去年729人入中國籍", Ming Pao, 12 January 2011, retrieved 28 May 2011
  16. Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) Card Scheme, Beijing: Embassy of India, retrieved 12 January 2014
  17. Kwok S. T., Narain, K. (2003).Co-Prosperity in Cross-Culturalism: Indians in Hong Kong.P.30
  18. 1 2 Kwok S. T., Narain, K. (2003).Co-Prosperity in Cross-Culturalism: Indians in Hong Kong.P.60
  19. "Table 4.5: Proportion of ethnic minorities aged 5 and over able to speak selected languages/dialects, 2011" (PDF). 2011 Census Thematic Report: Ethnic Minorities (PDF). Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department. December 2012. Retrieved 19 November 2015.
  20. 吳雪兒. (2009). Tandoor INDIAN RESTAURANT. Retrieved April, 29, from
  21. 2001年政府統計處. (2006). 香港南亞裔概況, P.15
  22. Employment Agencies Administration. (2009). Labour Department of Hong Kong. Retrieved April, 29, from

Hong Kong Indian Community Portal . Shailesh DABHI,Sahajanand diam limited.


Further reading

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