Helpers popular with white-collar workers in main cities Lillian left behind two young children in the Philippines and travelled thousands of kilometres to take up her first full-time job - as an English-speaking carer for 11/2-year-old Beijing boy Tyler. 'That's a car,' Lillian informs the toddler during one of their regular after-dinner walks. Lillian, aged 35, moved to Beijing this summer to take up a job with Ms Ju, the owner of a mainland employment agency catering to a growing demand for Filipino housekeepers and child carers. Ms Ju said she hired Lillian to help create an English-speaking environment for her son. She preferred not to give her full name because hiring foreigners for such work is a legal grey area on the mainland. 'I hired another two domestic workers to help with housework so that Lillian would spend more time with Tyler,' she said. Lillian works six days a week, beginning her day before everybody else gets up. 'I get up at 6am - sometimes as early as 5.30. My boss and the boy are still sleeping. So I wipe the floor, wash bottles and make breakfast,' she said. 'They do not ask me to do much housework. My major job is to take care of the boy and teach him English.' Mr Liu, the head of another Beijing housekeeping agency, estimates nearly 400 Filipino housekeepers are working in Beijing, with five or six agencies offering to recruit staff from the Philippines. He said the situation was similar in other large mainland cities, with clients mainly senior white-collar workers, business owners, people with overseas work experience or Hong Kong or Taiwan residents living on the mainland. And the main reason they are looking to hire Filipinos is to 'teach the kids English'. But it is not clear whether the business is entirely legal. Agency owners say government policy neither supports nor explicitly prohibits the activity. 'We always keep a low profile. Most agencies do not agree to media interviews because we are afraid that too many reports will attract government attention,' Mr Liu said. Another agency owner said: 'Current policies are neither supportive nor inhibitive. It's a grey area. I just want to mind my own business.' The message from officialdom is mixed. On the one hand, the Beijing municipal government's Foreign Affairs Office is clear on the issue, saying that hiring Filipino housekeepers was prohibited by the Beijing Bureau of Labour and Social Security and 'those housekeepers must have entered the mainland in some illegal way'. But a staff member at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security said there was no official policy. 'We don't have any statutes focusing on this issue. But introducing Filipino housekeepers is not encouraged ... as we already have a surplus of labour,' the person said. Ms Ju said Filipino housekeepers and child carers were not eligible for work visas, known as Z visas, because individual families were not officially qualified to employ overseas staff. But some workers are employed through companies or enter the country on tourist visas. 'Some intermediaries in Beijing can help change their visas into F [business visit] visas but, of course, you have to pay some money for that,' she said. Nevertheless, many people in the business are finding it promising. Ms Ju launched her business two months ago after sensing a demand among her friends and she expects to make a profit by next month. She said she hired local staff previously and was not satisfied. 'They shouted at my baby. I dared not criticise them too much for fear of irritating them. What if they take my baby away in retaliation? Many domestic housekeepers even use fake ID cards,' Ms Ju said. Faced with the complaints of a high turnover and a lack of professionalism among domestic housekeepers, some mainland companies have begun promoting 'senior domestic assistants' to employers. In 2003, the Shenzhen Atop Domestic Service Company advertised staff from Yunnan on its books as 'senior domestic assistants to challenge Filipino maids'. A company representative said the assistants were all college graduates but they did not stay long in the jobs. 'Many saw the job as a way to find a better job in Shenzhen. None were left within half a year,' she said. 'Demand for senior domestic assistants is high but we still stopped the business because they were hard to find.' The representative said senior assistants were paid 800-1,000 yuan a month, twice that of an ordinary maid, but college graduates did not want to end up being servants. Ms Ju said that to hire a housekeeper from the Philippines in Beijing, families have to pay an 8,500-yuan deposit. 'That includes the employee's travel and passport expenses as well as the cost of changing from a tourist to a business visa,' she said Employees are paid a minimum 2,800 yuan a month and given a return ticket. 'The business has emerged from demand. Why can't it have a place in the market,' Ms Ju asked. 'If the government legalised the business, I would be the first to register.'