Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Quality of work is beside the point in right of abode for domestic helpers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2011, 12:00am

I am afraid David Law ('Law barring foreign helpers from being granted permanent residency is unjust', August 15) has completely missed the point.

Few would disagree with him that most foreign domestic helpers are doing a good job in many of our homes. At the same time, I am certain many of them would tell you they are happy here, and are earning more than they would in their home country, or in any of the other places that allow them to enter to work as domestics. Apart from higher wages, they also enjoy more holidays and better living conditions. Our government has made sure of that. That is why we have never been short of domestic helpers and the number has grown from 70,000 in 1990 to 290,000 today. Hong Kong is their favourite place of work.

However, the problem we now face is a socio-economic one, as immigration control usually is.

It is internationally accepted that all jurisdictions have the right to control the flow of people into their territory. As a result, governments are entrusted by their people with the authority to impose restrictions on foreigners who wish to enter their territory. Immigration laws everywhere require that foreigners entering for specific purposes - whether to visit, to work, or to study - need to apply for permission. In most jurisdictions, foreigners admitted for such purposes are seldom granted the right to permanent residence.

Hong Kong now faces a crisis. There is a possibility that 125,000 foreign domestic helpers who have been in Hong Kong for at least seven years can apply for permanent residence, and under the present law, the Director of Immigration has no power to turn down such applications.

Permanent residents enjoy certain rights and privileges, including a minimum wage, public housing, public medical services, and free education for their children. A sudden, unplanned surge in the number of permanent residents would definitely create problems for the government as well as households presently employing domestic helpers.

When foreign domestic helpers enter Hong Kong, they are clearly informed of the conditions under which they can come and work. They know that the years they spend here working will not be counted as years of residence for the purpose of applying for permanent stay. The fact that many of them have done a good job is an entirely separate matter.

Selina Chow, Liberal Party deputy chairwoman