Women who have recently migrated to Hong Kong could make up a bigger portion of the city's labour supply if greater support were offered to them, a study by the Society for Community Organisation suggests.
The study found almost 90 per cent of recent female arrivals said they had been prevented from taking jobs because they had to take care of children at home.
And about a quarter said they felt employers discriminated against new migrants and were reluctant to hire them.
The group interviewed 120 such women over the past two months. Ninety per cent of respondents previously had jobs on the mainland and had worked for an average of 13.2 years.
Sze Lai-shan, a veteran social worker with the group, said: "They have the ability and most are willing to work. They are not locusts." Locusts is a term used by critics to attack mainland migrants and visitors.
Sze cited government research that showed the employment rate among recent migrants went up from 44.2 per cent in 2001 to 47.8 per cent in 2011.
"What they need is more support from the government," Sze said. "For example, if there were more babysitting services available, these women would be free to go out to work."
She also called for more training to be offered.
"Some were teachers before they came to settle here. Some were accountants. But their qualifications are not recognised in Hong Kong, so they have no choice but to do unskilled, laborious work here.
"It is a waste of human resources. We should set up a framework to recognise academic or professional qualifications obtained on the mainland."
She also urged the government to set up a dedicated department to look after the needs of new migrants.
"At present, they need to go to the Labour Department to look for a job and to the Social Welfare Department to apply for public assistance, but they are new arrivals and many of them do not even know which department does what," Sze said.
The Society for Community Organisation was criticised in December after it pushed for a landmark court ruling granting new arrivals the right to welfare. A core member of the group, Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, said he had been bombarded with insults online and even death threats.
The Court of Final Appeal overturned the rule that only people who had lived in the city for seven years could qualify for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance benefits.