Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Filipino couple take their residency fight to court

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2011, 12:00am

A Filipino couple fought in court yesterday for their right of abode, in the first case following the victory of a domestic helper last month.

The judicial review at the Court of First Instance was brought by Daniel and Irene Domingo, who have been living in Hong Kong for 26 and 29 years respectively, with three children born here.

The couple are challenging the Commissioner of Registration's decision to reject their application for permanent identity cards in August 2008 and the decision by the Registration of Persons Tribunal to dismiss their appeal in June 2010.

At issue is whether the couple's acceptance of an offer of unconditional stay meant they have to accrue their period of ordinary residence only after November 2007, ignoring their previous stay in Hong Kong.

The case came after a judgment last month that found in favour of domestic helper Evangeline Banao Vallejos and ruled unconstitutional an immigration provision that excludes foreign domestic helpers from being 'ordinary residents' in Hong Kong.

The court heard yesterday that the Immigration Department offered the unconditional stay to the Domingos in exchange for the couple withdrawing an appeal against a Commissioner of Registration's decision to refuse their first right of abode application filed in 2006.

Gladys Li, for the couple, suggested the offer was made because the government did not want the Immigration Ordinance to be challenged.

The permission to stay, to be renewed every year, allows the couple to take up jobs other than domestic helpers, the court heard.

Abraham Chan, for the government, said that by accepting the offer, the couple agreed that the calculation of the length of their ordinary residence would start on November 14, 2007, and they would give up the right to argue whether their previous stay constituted ordinary residence.

Li, for the couple, said the couple never agreed to such a condition, which she said could not be found in the offer letter. She said the term was only found in an acknowledgement letter, which she said would not form part of the offer's conditions.

'It is nothing but a unilateral statement made by the [Immigration] Director,' Li said.

The court heard that even if the couple lost the judicial challenge, they will be able to obtain permanent residency in 2014, when they will satisfy the requirement of staying in Hong Kong continuously for seven years before the date of application.

Lawyers for the couple said that the government should not prevent people from claiming their right.

The judge reserved his judgment.