x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Foreign maids in Hong Kong lose fight for residency rights

Hong Kong's top court decided against two Filipino domestic helpers seeking permanent residency yesterday, the final decision in a case that affects tens of thousands of other foreign maids in the Chinese financial hub.

HONG KONG // Hong Kong's top court decided against two Filipino domestic helpers seeking permanent residency today, the final decision in a case that affects tens of thousands of other foreign maids in the Chinese financial hub.

In a unanimous ruling, the Court of Final Appeal sided with the government's position that tight restrictions on domestic helpers mean they don't have the same status as other foreign residents, who can apply to settle permanently after seven years. Lawyers for the two had argued that an immigration provision barring domestic workers from permanent residency was unconstitutional.

Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma wrote that foreign domestic helpers "are told from the outset that admission is not for the purposes of settlement and that dependents cannot be brought to reside in Hong Kong".

The decision means Evangeline Banao Vallejos and Daniel Domingo cannot apply for permanent residence even though Ms Vallejos has worked in Hong Kong since 1986 and Mr Domingo since 1985. Neither appeared at court.

"We are very disappointed," said Mark Daly, a lawyer for the pair.

He said Ms Vallejos was speechless after learning about the decision.

"While we respect the judgment, we disagree with it," Mr Daly said.

He added that the ruling is "not a good reflection of the values we should be teaching youngsters and people in our society".

The case has split the city, home to nearly 300,000 maids from South-east Asian countries. The vast majority are from Indonesia and the Philippines. Some argue that barring maids from applying for residency amounts to ethnic discrimination. But other groups have raised fears that the case would result in a massive influx of maids' family members arriving in Hong Kong, straining the densely populated city's social services, health and education systems. Supporters of the maids, who earn at least Dh1,800 a month and get room and board, say those fears are overblown.

"Today is a very sad day for migrant workers in Hong Kong," said Eman Villanueva, the secretary general of United Filipinos in Hong Kong. "With the court's ruling today, it gave its judicial seal to unfair treatment and the social exclusion of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong."

Along with the foreign maids, Hong Kong is also home to tens of thousands of expatriates working in professions like banking, accounting or teaching. They can apply after seven years for permanent residence, which allows them to vote and work without needing a visa.

Government figures cited by a lower court in this case said an estimated 117,000 foreign maids had been in Hong Kong long enough to qualify for residency as of 2010.