The Immigration Department yesterday undermined the Philippine government's threat not to endorse new contracts for Filipino helpers in Hong Kong by saying it would allow helpers to stay without the need for clearance from their consulate. A department spokeswoman said the measure would be adopted 'to avoid inconvenience'. The move follows a threat by the Philippine government to extend its ban to maids already in Hong Kong who want to renew contracts or start new jobs. On Wednesday, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced a temporary ban on the processing of all contracts for domestic helpers looking to work in Hong Kong, in retaliation against the government's decision to cut the minimum wage of maids by $400, to $3,270 from April 1. The ban will take effect from Monday. The Philippine Consulate responded to the department's move yesterday by saying it had always been the practice for contracts to pass through the consulate first before being processed by the Immigration Department. Philippine Consul-General Victoria Bataclan said: 'The practice has always been that the Immigration Department cannot process anything that is not verified here. It covers all consulates, not only the Philippine Consulate.' Legislator Lee Cheuk-yan of The Frontier said he was opposed to the pay cut on maids and a levy on their employers, but he thought the Philippines' decision to stop maids working in Hong Kong was 'clumsy' and had alienated its own nationals. Further, Mr Lee urged the Hong Kong government to standardise the mechanism it used to peg minimum pay levels for foreign helpers as it seemed to change each year. 'Last time it used GDP per capita and the wage index of service workers. This time it used deflation and the median monthly earnings of service workers and those in elementary occupations.' Guidelines set out in the Philippines yesterday stated the temporary suspension only covered new helpers going to Hong Kong and would not affect the 147,000 Filipino helpers already in the city, provided they received the current minimum pay of $3,670. A review of the suspension will be completed in 30 days. Meanwhile, the Concern Group Against Maids' Levy yesterday launched a signature campaign against the pay cut and levy.