HK must seek Beijing ruling on right of abode for maids, Ip says

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2011, 12:00am


The government should seek a central government interpretation of the Basic Law over the right of abode ruling concerning foreign domestic workers, lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said yesterday.

She said the government was unlikely to win an appeal against the High Court ruling last week that it was unconstitutional to deny helpers permanent residency because Judge Johnson Lam Man-hon's judgment had been very clear. So the government should ask Beijing for its interpretation of 'ordinary resident'.

Ip said she would meet security chief Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong this week to express her concerns.

On Friday, Lam declared as unconstitutional the exclusion of foreign domestic workers from a rule that allows foreigners to apply for the right to settle in the city after seven years of uninterrupted residency.

He ruled the provision in the Immigration Ordinance contravenes the Basic Law.

The government said it would appeal and that officials would ask for the court's permission to suspend the processing and approval of all right-of-abode applications filed by domestic helpers in the meantime.

The government says about 117,000 helpers have been working in Hong Kong for at least seven years.

Speaking at the City Forum, Ip, chairwoman of the New People's Party, said the government could not deny permanent residency to foreign domestic helpers once their applications were ruled as being in line with the Basic Law.

She said explanatory notes that imposed restrictions on the applications could not be added to the Immigration Ordinance under the Court of First Instance ruling.

This meant information such as whether the applicant had reasonable means to support him or herself and whether they had paid taxes would be taken 'for reference only' in processing the applications.

Speaking at the same event, Joseph Law, chairman of the Hong Kong Employers of Overseas Domestic Helpers Association, said he feared the Immigration Department was powerless to stop an influx of domestic helpers.

Law said that since 2003, about 200 foreign domestic helpers had filed applications for permanent residency, but none had been approved.

Meanwhile, 8,300 applications had been filed by other foreign nationals last year and 7,000 this year, with a success rate of 90 per cent.

Law said a survey of 200 domestic helpers carried out by the association had revealed that about two-thirds would apply for residency once they became eligible.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong drew hundreds of people to a protest opposing the verdict and urging the government to immediately appeal.

A party spokesman said many people feared a sudden increase in the number of permanent residents would put a heavy burden on educational, medical and housing services.

Law Yuk-kai, director of the Human Rights Monitor, said the government should address the socioeconomic impact of the ruling rather than attempt to alter the court's decision by seeking Beijing's interpretation of the Basic Law, which would undermine the city's rule of law.