Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Official denies scare tactic claims on right of abode

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2012, 12:00am

The head of the Immigration Department yesterday dismissed suggestions that the government had resorted to scare tactics in its fight against pleas by domestic helpers to be allowed the right of abode in Hong Kong.

Eric Chan Kwok-ki, director of immigration, rejected claims that the authorities were playing on the public's fears by releasing data showing that 125,000 foreign domestic helpers have been living in the city for seven years or more.

Most people who have worked in Hong Kong for seven years are entitled to permanent residency, with the exclusion of domestic helpers.

'It's a factual number,' Chan said, when asked about the figure.

'It's not an estimate of how many foreign domestic helpers would apply [for right of abode]. [It] is a figure of the number of foreign domestic helpers who have lived [in Hong Kong] for seven years.'

His comments came on the day that the South China Morning Post revealed that just 631 foreign domestic helpers, some 0.5 per cent of the 125,000 total, have applied for permanent residency since September, when the High Court ruled that the ban on residency for domestic helpers was unconstitutional.

The court's ruling, which the government is appealing against, was made in the case of Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a Filipino helper who has lived in Hong Kong for 25 years.

During the judicial review, government lawyers argued that changing the law would lead to an 'influx' of immigrants.

Mark Daly, a human rights lawyer who represents domestic helpers seeking right of abode, repeatedly said the government's figure was 'wildly exaggerated', calling it a scare tactic.

Chan said the figure of 631 applications should be disregarded, as the processing of right-of-abode applications have been on hold since the September ruling.

'We believe that because we have announced we would not process [any right-of-abode applications] until the final court decision, a majority of [eligible] applicants did not file their applications,' he said.

Chan said he would not speculate about whether the number of right-of-abode applications would surge after the final court decision on the Vallejos case.

However, he said there would be 'a very big difference' if the processing of residency applications was reopened now.

The government's appeal against the ruling in favour of Vallejos will be heard on February 21.