Domestic helpers see Hong Kong as home

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 March, 2013, 4:50am

After 30 years in Hong Kong, Carmelita Castillo regards the city as home.

"I consider myself a Hong Kong resident. Hong Kong is my home," said the Filipino domestic helper, softly yet powerfully. She has lived here since 1982.

Rosie Padilla, who has worked for one family in Kwai Fong for 12 years, has similar feelings.

"My employer treats me as part of the family," she said, as she spent her day off on Sunday with thousands of other domestic helpers in Central.

"They have supported me and kept telling me to stay with them."

Sadly for them, the Court of Final Appeal did not share their view, rejecting a constitutional challenge to an Immigration Department ruling that excludes helpers from the definition of "ordinarily resident", a key requirement for permanent residency after seven years.

The day before, a sense of hope and fear of disappointment pervaded the throngs in Statue Square. "All of us would be very happy if the court ruled [in our favour]," Castillo said. "We would have had no problem going back and forth even if our contract was terminated if we were permanent residents."

Apart from a relative lack in Hong Kong of the corruption that plagues her home country, she said she liked "the lifestyle, the surroundings and the infrastructure in Hong Kong".

Padilla said she quit university to take a job here.

"I'm used to a life here now. I keep meeting my friends on days off," she said.

"I think this is continued discrimination against us," Padilla said of the exclusion from permanent residency.

"Some of us have stayed a very long time working for a family. Why can some others [have right of abode] after staying for a long time here?"

However, another Filipino helper, Chona Beltran, said she did not care about the ruling as she only planned to stay for a couple more years.

"We're not going to be here forever," she said, sitting next to the former Legislative Council building - soon to be the home of the court that has ruled against the helpers.

"So I won't care [what the ruling is]. I'll stay for two more years only."

The government has permitted foreign domestic helpers to work in the city since the 1970s to meet the shortage of local full-time live-in domestic helpers.

There are now about 300,000 helpers, mostly Filipinos and Indonesians.