HONG KONG -- Life in Hong Kong often seems like an endless fight for space.
Many of the 6.7 million people living in the most congested city on Earth are crammed into exorbitantly priced high-rise apartments, so closely packed together they can easily see the neighbor's television. The average wait for public housing is 6 1/2 years. The air is chronically polluted, and space for landfills is running out.Things could also get worse, quickly.
After a recent court ruling, Hong Kong -- still struggling through the worst recession in a generation -- is expecting at least 300,000 migrants from mainland China in the next few years.
There might be even more coming. Nobody knows the true numbers. But one thing is certain. Most will arrive without much cash, education or skills.
Hong Kong's highest court, the Court of Final Appeal, recently ruled that the territory's constitution gives mainland Chinese the right to live here if they have one parent who is a citizen. It doesn't matter if they were born out of wedlock, or if the parent got Hong Kong residency after the child was born.
The ruling was a bombshell that divided Hong Kong.
It was good for families who have been split by the border. But many wonder if the influx could sink Hong Kong's ailing economy.
"Hong Kong will be a mess if all of a sudden we get all these people coming here," said Vince Chan, a saleswoman.
Lau Kam-fung, 48, sees it differently. Now, he can finally live legally here with his four mainland-born children.
"I don't know anything about the law, but if the lawyers and judges are exercising their conscience, they should know that kids have the right to stay with their parents," Lau said, sitting curled up in one corner of two adjoining bunk beds crammed in his 150-square-foot apartment in a housing project.
His three youngest kids, 8, 10 and 11 years old, jostled and laughed in the top bunk, while 16-year-old Lau Wai-keung huddled uncomfortably over a kindergarten-sized desk.
Government officials are conducting surveys to see how many new people qualify for the right to live here. They're already warning that the migrants could strain Hong Kong's welfare, housing, education and medical systems.
Workers worry the newcomers will drag down wages, while some fear the anticipated population explosion could erode their quality of life.
Others worry the arrival of illegitimate children might lead to widespread marital problems. Rampant prejudice against new migrants could further stir societal tensions.
"Hong Kong people can't expect their quality of life to get better," said Lau Siu-kai, associate director of Institute of Asia Pacific Studies at the Chinese University.
Many mainland women see men in Hong Kong as a ticket to a better life.
Since the early 1990s, many Hong Kong residents who commute across the border to work -- as China opened up to foreign investors -- also have found wives or mistresses there, creating more split families.