Hong Kong’s war against domestic helpers
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Hong Kong’s war against domestic helpers

Despite a court ruling against it, the government appears intent on making sure no brown-skinned Asians get right of abode, reports Asia Sentinel’s Philip Bowring

The Hong Kong government seems set on ensuring that its ethnocentric instincts trump the rule of law.

Following a court decision that gave right of abode (permanent residence) to a maid from the Philippines who has been living in the territory for 25 years, the government has indicated that it would not only take the case to the Court of Appeal and, Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal but if necessary to Beijing to have the judgment overturned by the National People’s Congress. No Communist government imagines that it should be subservient to constitutional process interpreted by judges so the NPC would rubber stamp the Hong Kong government’s preference for putting its decisions above the rule of law.


Supporters of Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a Filipino domestic helper who won a landmark court case Friday, outside Hong Kong High Court. Pic: AP.

Meanwhile the government is drumming up populist opposition to the grant of abode for long-resident maids by suggesting that they will be a huge flood which would swamp the territory and bring with them their families, undercut wages and inundate schools and hospitals. There are some 300,000 foreign domestic helpers, as the maids are technically known, of whom about 100,000 have been there for the minimum seven years required before they might become eligible for abode. Most are from the Philippines and Indonesia with a few from South Asia – only brown Asians apparently qualify to be maids.

In reality the legal position is much more nuanced than indicated by the government’s scare tactics. The judgment in no way implies that all those who had been resident for seven years or more are entitled to abode. It simply declares that the Immigration law excluding domestic helpers from applying for right of abode is illegal as it is contrary to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. The Basic Law Article 24 (4) states very simply that permanent residents include:

“Persons not of Chinese nationality who have entered Hong Kong with valid travel documents, have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of seven years and have taken Hong Kong as their place of permanent residents”

The immigration law sought to prevent this applying to one class of persons, the domestic helpers, although the Basic Law made no such provision. But clearly there is scope for interpretation of the phrase “have taken Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence” and most helpers might well fail to satisfy this.