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Hong Kong rules against residency for foreign domestic helpers

March 25, 2013|By Emily Alpert

Foreigners who cook, clean houses and care for children in Hong Kong will not be eligible to become permanent residents like other workers from abroad, a final appeals court ruled Monday.

The unanimous ruling disappointed the Filipino workers who pressed the case and activists championing their cause. Foreigners working in other jobs can seek permanent residency after living seven years in Hong Kong, but its immigration rules explicitly bar “domestic helpers” from doing so. Permanent residents can stay indefinitely and vote in Hong Kong.

“It’s a slap in the face for the migrant women who care for Hong Kong’s families, often at great personal sacrifice, to be treated so unequally by the law,” Human Rights Watch senior researcher Nisha Varia wrote in an email Monday to the Los Angeles Times.

A year and a half ago, workers Evangeline Vallejos and Daniel Domingo, who came to Hong Kong from the Philippines decades ago to work as domestic helpers, convinced a lower court that excluding domestic workers was unconstitutional. The government appealed the case, bringing it to the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeals, which ruled against the two laborers.

In its decision, the court said the restrictive rules reflect the fact that the government allows laborers to enter “for the particular purpose of meeting the shortage of domestic helpers in the labor market.” Domestic workers “are are not admitted for settlement in Hong Kong and are expected to maintain genuine links in their home country,” the decision stated.

Migrant activists denounced the ruling. The court “gave its judicial seal to unfair treatment and to the social exclusion of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong," Asian Migrants Coordinating Body spokesman Eman Villanueva told Radio Television Hong Kong.

RTHK reported that the decision was supported by leading Hong Kong political parties and employer groups, who feared a rush of foreign domestic workers seeking residency in the small territory. Roughly 300,000 laborers from abroad work in Hong Kong homes as helpers; the government earlier estimated more than 100,000 would be eligible to seek residency if domestic helpers were allowed to do so, though activists argued that far fewer would pursue it.

The court steered clear of asking Beijing to give its interpretation on Hong Kong residency law -- a move that could have reopened the question of legal rights of babies born in Hong Kong to parents from the Chinese mainland. Some analysts feared it would undercut the independence of Hong Kong courts. The former British territory was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, but enjoys a degree of autonomy from the mainland.


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