Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Domestic helpers home in on ruling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 January, 2012, 12:00am

The number of foreign domestic helpers applying for right of abode went from an average of just one a month before September's landmark permanent residency ruling to more than 200 a month after it.

While this represents just a tiny fraction of the 125,000 helpers who have lived in Hong Kong for at least seven years, it is a significant rise.

The surge was pre-empted by a slight rise to 16 applications in the run-up to the ruling.

In November, a total of 334 applications were filed. Starry Lee Wai-king, vice-chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said she was alarmed by what she described as an 'astonishing' increase in applications.

But some analysts said it was too early to identify a trend.

Others said it showed estimates that as many as 500,000 immigrants could flood into Hong Kong - if each domestic helper brought in a spouse and two children - were just a scare tactic.

The figure could also be affected by the government suspending the processing of right of abode applications pending a final decision on its appeal against the ruling in favour of Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a Filipino who has lived in Hong Kong for 25 years. In late September, Mr Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon declared in the High Court that 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 was unconstitutional.

The latest figures obtained by the South China Morning Post showed that the number of applications for verification of eligibility for a permanent identity card between October and December are, respectively, 148, 334 and 149.

They are preceded by about 16 applications a month in August and September, in the run-up to the residency ruling.

Mark Daly, a human rights lawyer who represented the domestic helpers, said the number of applications filed in the past three months supported claims that the government's estimate was 'wildly exaggerated'.

Daly added that the foreign domestic helpers are just seeking the right to apply for right of abode - not an automatic right to permanent residency.

The Immigration Department was still the gatekeeper, he said, determining who would be given permanent residence.

Eni Lestati, a spokeswoman for the Asian Migrants' Co-ordinating Body, said: 'A few months on [from the ruling], it is proven that not many of us are so excited to be Hong Kong permanent residents.'

New People's Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said: 'The number is, of course, small because the Immigration Department is not processing any applications at the moment.

'The real threat will only come after the final court decision.'

The Immigration Department declined to comment yesterday.

The appeal on the Vallejos case will be heard on February 21 and is scheduled to last three days.