Hong Kong gears up for Filipino maid’s residency
HONG KONG HONG KONG is set to hear later this month a Filipino domestic helper’s legal bid for permanent residency in the southern Chinese city, in a landmark case that has sparked heated debate.
A successful legal challenge will be a first of its kind in Asia, activists said, and a recognition of rights and equality for domestic workers, who are mostly from labour-exporting countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia.
Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a Filipino maid who has worked and lived in Hong Kong since 1986, launched the case last year after her attempts for permanent residency were denied by the city’s immigration authorities.
Under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, a mini constitution, non-citizens are entitled to permanent residency — which allows them to vote and better access to public services — if they have “ordinarily resided” in the city for a continuous seven years.
The immigration laws however specifically exclude the 292,000 foreign domestic helpers.
The case, due to be heard from August 22, has prompted a series of debates with critics fearing that if the court rules in favour, it will open up the floodgates to thousands of foreign maids to apply for permanent residency.
“Just like bankers and teachers, they live here and contribute to the economy, why do we have to differentiate them just because of the nature of their job?” activist Doris Lee said, branding the law “discriminatory”.
Lee, of labour rights group Asia Monitor Resource Centre, urged Hong Kong to continue to lead in protecting the rights of domestic helpers.
Domestic workers in the Asian financial hub are guaranteed one day off a week, paid sick leave, maternity leave, statutory public holidays, allowed right to form union and earn at least $480 a month.
Their counterparts in many other parts of Asia — such as Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and Japan — are worse off in comparison, rights groups say, lacking legal protection and often facing abuses.
Foreign maids in Malaysia, for example, one of Asia’s largest labour importers, earn as little as $130 a month and reports have emerged from there of shocking mistreatment.
“Hong Kong is already kind of a leader but I don’t think it is enough when there is still fundamental inequality between domestic workers and other workers in Hong Kong,” said Lee.
“If successful, (this case would) mark the first where migrant domestic workers could gain the right of abode after they live in the place for a certain number of years,” added the activist.
Supporters and critics of Vallejos’s bid have held rally and counter-rally over the upcoming case, while newspaper columns and letter pages have been filled with split opinions for weeks.
The government has held special meetings to discuss the possible outcome and is reportedly mulling the possibility of limiting years of service of foreign domestic workers to prevent their bid for residency in the future.