Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Unions to poll maids on HK ambitions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 October, 2011, 12:00am

A coalition of foreign domestic helper unions is launching a survey to find out how many maids plan to stay in Hong Kong permanently.

Amid a series of court cases over domestic helpers' applications for permanent residency, the Asian Migrants' Co-ordinating Body said the poll, the first of its kind, would ask helpers whether they wanted to take the city as their home and if they would bring along their families.

'We want to see how many helpers are really planning to stay in Hong Kong,' Eni Lestari, a spokeswoman for the group, said. 'There has been no formal study on that so far.'

Cynthia Tellez, Mission for Migrant Workers Society general manager, said the poll aimed at getting scientific statistics on helpers' intention to stay. 'Instead of making wild guesses, we want to know what is in the minds of the helpers.'

The government and opponents of permanent abode for maids have said hundreds of thousands of people are likely to come if a ruling is upheld that helpers who have lived in the city for seven years or more are entitled to permanent residence.

Protests have been held since September when a court ruled in favour of helper Evangeline Banao Vallejos and ruled unconstitutional an immigration provision that excludes helpers from being 'ordinarily resident' - a key requirement for a permanent identity card.

The government said earlier that about 125,000 domestic helpers had lived in Hong Kong for at least seven years and that 500,000 people could immigrate if each brought in a spouse and two children.

'We really do not know if such estimations are correct and it is why we have to do a survey,' Tellez said. 'Before the court rulings, many workers had never dreamed of staying on in Hong Kong.'

A preliminary survey of 160 helpers was conducted this week, but the coalition believes the sample size should be extended to about 1,000, to gather more accurate figures.

The coalition said the random survey, to be completed in about two weeks, would include questions such as on respondents' qualifications.

On Wednesday, a High Court judge said the government could temporarily stop processing helpers' applications for permanent residency until the conclusion of its appeal against an earlier ruling.

At the same time, Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said there had been a significant increase in the number of abode applications filed by helpers to the Immigration Department. In the past it received on average one application a month but on Tuesday alone it got 20.

Soriano Pacita, 41, who has worked as a helper in Hong Kong for 14 years, handed in her application at the department's headquarters in Wan Chai yesterday. 'We have been here long enough to be a resident,' she said. 'If I were granted the right of abode, I could work as a waitress in restaurants instead of as a domestic helper. I want to spend more time to socialise with people and date a guy. And I will marry someone and settle down here for the rest of my life.'

In Beijing, the vice-chairman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee Legislative Affairs Commission, Li Fei, said the central government was concerned about the court cases.