I read a news feature about Khezar Hayat, born and raised in Hong Kong-born of Pakistani origin. He speaks Cantonese, English, Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. He reads and writes Chinese well, good enough to get high marks from a government-recognized overseas examination. He is physically fit and has no criminal record. But despite these seemingly impeccable qualifications for an entry post in the police force, his application was rejected.
Hayat not only passed his General Certificate of Secondary Education, he did it with flying colors. He underwent an interview in Cantonese, using highly idiomatic expressions to emphasize his deep knowledge of the language, and took three written questions in Chinese. At the end of the interview, he was told that his Chinese language skill was not good enough.
Such an experience may not be uncommon for ethnic minorities who apply for government positions yet get routinely rejected. I have no other basis but just my failure to see any Nepalese or Pakistani in the police force. Instead, we see them work as bouncers on night clubs or security guards at Hang Seng Bank. I think having members of the Hong Kong Police Force with diverse background will be helpful in its operations. For example, a Pakistani constable could be deployed to assist officers in tackling illegal South Asian immigrants from China and his language skills would be very helpful in resolving cases.
During the early years of its existence, the multi-racial police force was composed of Sikh Indians, white officers and locals. Now, more than 95 percent of its members are Hong Kong Chinese. Although the recruitment of Europeans as members of the force ended in 1994, there are a handful of them in the service as officers, as well as those with Indian, Pakistani, Thai, Singaporean and Malaysian origins. But that could be history soon. Since I arrived in Hong Kong, every time I pass by airport immigration, I always see Chinese officers. During my only trip to Los Angeles, the immigration officer was of Filipino origin and conversed with me in Tagalog.
Since 2003, one main requirement for a government employment is fluency in Cantonese, something Hong Kong Chinese have inherent advantage in. While English skills didn’t seem as important, local police members are generally well versed with the language. But for ethnic members of the society who cannot speak neither English nor Chinese, Hong Kong can be a challenging place to live. If they brush with the law, life could even be harder.
I was reminded of an old but still relevant government campaign which calls for employers to count on talent and not on age. Should it expand so that recruitment is also not based on color of an applicant’s skin?
Meanwhile, Khezar Hayat continues to work as a delivery man, after his job application was rejected.