Maids from Bangladesh and Myanmar - brought to the city to bolster a shrinking workforce - are returning home just months after arriving, aggravating a shortage of domestic helpers.
In addition, agencies supplying maids report that it is becoming increasingly difficult to hire Filipino helpers, as they are choosing factory jobs in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, where they are paid more than the HK$4,010 a month they get in Hong Kong.
There are about 320,000 helpers in the city. About half are from the Philippines and most of the rest from Indonesia, with small numbers from Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Employment agencies have said that previously, prospective employers were given a choice of several workers to hire, but now availability is so tight they are no longer given a choice.
Six months after the first group of 19 Myanmese arrived in Hong Kong, dozens more have come. But a sixth of them have already returned home, as they could not get used to life here.
The recruitment agency that brought the first group of helpers from Bangladesh says that one in five of them has gone home.
Law Yiu-keung, managing director of the Golden Mind Employment Agency, the only one in the city licensed to bring in helpers from Myanmar, said 90 had taken jobs in the city, but 14 had already gone home.
"Some of them left because they could not get used to the life here. Some did not tell us the reasons and only said they wanted to go home. Working here was probably not what they imagined before they came," Law said.
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He had planned to bring in 2,000 Myanmese helpers in the first year. However, only 90 have arrived because of the lengthy approval process each worker has to go through.
"It only takes a month for the Hong Kong government to get the relevant procedures done. It takes two to three months for the Myanmar side to get it done. It is taking a while," he said.
Law believes that the Myanmar's government is monitoring how his agency is doing before deciding whether to allow other agencies to bring in its citizens.
Teresa Liu Tsui-lan, managing director of Technic Employment Service Centre, has met officials in Myanmar in an attempt to tap into this new source of helpers, but has encountered difficulties.
"Now I am reconsidering. You need to invest a lot, and the profit is low," she said.
She said the Indonesian government allowed recruitment agencies to charge helpers about HK$13,500 for expenses such as medical checks and training, but Myanmar allows the agencies to charge the helpers "very little".
Liu's agency was the first to be allowed to bring in Bangladeshi helpers. Since the first group arrived in May last year, about 300 more have come to Hong Kong.
"About 20 per cent have left because they could not get used to life here. They hadn't imagined that working here could be so much hard work. Some left after a year because they had made enough money," Liu said.
Eman Villanueva, spokesman for the Asia Migrants' Coordinating Body, recalled that he had the "shock of his life" when he first arrived as a helper 23 years ago because life here was very different from in the Philippines.
"I cried at night and I spent so much money calling home," he recalled.
"My advice is that they need to make friends with other domestic helpers. But it will be harder for those from Myanmar and Bangladesh because their community is small."