Uses and abuses

Last week, one of our local Portuguese papers broke some noteworthy news. Apparently, the migration services are dealing with non-resident students in ways that appear illegitimate, to say the least. Surprisingly, no-one involved seemed to ask the obvious questions or challenged the procedures. And which procedures are we talking about? Non-resident students have a special visa that usually covers the period until the end of the academic year. Of course, in their last year it will happen often that the visa is still valid when they finish their course. That allows them some time to settle their affairs before leaving the territory. They cannot control the date when their last grade will be published, and they cannot know in advance if they need to subject themselves to further examinations. When the final grade comes it seems only appropriate that they are given a certain time to prepare their return using their visa ‘slack’. That sounds reasonable and fair. Until now! According to the report, the migration services are giving students one day to leave the territory and will treat them as illegal immigrants from then on. That means they may risk deportation and be forbidden to return to Macau for a certain period of time. It is so obviously unreasonable that should it be legal the only rightful approach would be to change the law. But apparently that is just a very narrow, erroneous – and should I say again, unreasonable – interpretation of the law. Someone decided it was a good one, and a new procedure was devised. The higher education institutions were asked to provide a list of the non-resident students who finished their course and have apparently obliged without reservation. That’s perplexing. No-one questioned the usage of those listsl were the legal advisors not asked to analyse the issue? No-one had doubts or questions? Nobody felt the need to defend the interests and dignity of their students? Possibly they were not aware, a possibility that raises other interesting angles. But let us not diverge from the main theme. In their defence, the services argue that the ‘one-day’ rule is in the written guidance materials they provide students when they arrive. Well, an illegal or irregular procedure does not become legal or regular because a public service enunciates it. In must be in accordance with laws, serve a clear public good or concern, and protect the legitimate interests and rights of those subjected to them. The interpretations of the services are not above the law. They cannot bend or violate the rules in ways that ultimately usurp the powers of the rightful lawmaking bodies. In a system where the law prevails, the laws exist to protect citizens from abuses of power, not to ritually justify whatever interpretation any service fancies at any moment. And what kind of moral and political signal does that procedure convey to those who have chosen – and paid – to attend our higher education institutions?