• Thu
  • Nov 27, 2014
  • Updated: 6:59pm
CommentInsight & Opinion

Right of abode settled, for now

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 March, 2013, 3:28am

The right-of-abode ruling by the city's top court appears to have spared Hong Kong a crisis, at least for the time being. Court of Final Appeal ruled that foreign domestic helpers had no right to claim permanent residency. The decision quashed the hopes of hundreds of thousands who may have wanted to settle here. The court also rejected the government's request to seek Beijing's interpretation of the Basic Law, saying the abode provision was clear enough. Although the ruling has averted the perception of the rule of law being compromised, it leaves open the door for mainlanders to take advantage of our abode regime, which grants residency for their children born here.

Like it or not, the decisions are not going to please everyone. That the domestic helpers feel disappointed is to be expected. But the outcome is likely to be welcomed by the locals, who feared that their rights and benefits would have been shared by outsiders. The abode saga has stirred emotions over the past years. Now that a final ruling has been made, it should be respected.

Unlike the permanent residency given to foreigners who have lived in the city for seven years or more, the court said domestic helpers faced many restrictions and were therefore not qualified as "ordinarily" residing in the city under Article 24 of the Basic Law. The nature of their residence, according to the judges, is highly restrictive in that they are required to live with the employer; and return to their country at the end of the contract.

The top bench said the Article 24 was clear enough and there was no basis for referring to any "extrinsic" materials to help interpretation. This foils the government attempt to kill two birds with one stone by asking Beijing to clarify in one go whether the Basic Law intends to give abode to domestic helpers and mainland children born here. The latter's right was upheld by the top court in 2001. Attention is drawn to whether officials will try to overturn the ruling by appealing to Beijing directly - a step seen by many as detrimental to the rule of law.

With some 200,000 children having benefited from the 2001 ruling, officials are understandably worried about the burden in the long run. But the measures put in place to curb the trend, such as intercepting expectant mothers arriving to give birth and refusing hospital bookings for them, appears to be working. Instead of another interpretation to keep them out, the way forward is to better accommodate the children, who can help rejuvenate our ageing population in future.


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This article is now closed to comments

The right-of-abode for the mainland children of Hong Kong parent has never been a problem. It is just an expanded way of the daily 150 Chinese immigrants settling in Hong Kong. In fact, to much delight to the property sector, housing market is assured. Likewise, the property sector must be celebrating that right-of-abode is refused to the foreign domestic helpers who really are the pillar making two-wage earning family possible for the high-priced housing. Again, Hong Kong’s way of life is so much under the thumbs of the property developers. But why?
We should never mix up the 2 items. HK people were against 300,000 unskilled laborers to become permanent residents as it was not the agreement that was in place and it would have drained public finances.
I think people of HK believe that Children born in HK have a birthright to be HK permanent residents. The government has put in the required restrictions to ensure this # is kept in balance. Everyone knows that where you were born is your birth country independent of where your parents came from. People must have 1 place that will accept them and welcome them.
SCMP needs to stop muddling the 2 together. One is a birth right and the other is not.
The right for someone to live in the place where they were born is an accepted universal right not just a privilege. It follows then that a person with such a right also has equal rights under the law throughout their lives. This means other Asian and European families, some having been here since HK's colonial founding, have these equal rights as well. Including education, health care, right to due process as well as many others. I'm thinking particularly of East Asian families from India and other parts of the Subcontinent who have been in HK for generations who are no less from HK as any person of Chinese decent. This must be kept in mind as do avoid hypocrisy.


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