More than 1,300 foreign domestic helpers who applied for work visas in Hong Kong last year were suspected of "job-hopping" to collect severance pay, the Security Bureau says. Of those, 170 applications were rejected, while another 158 were voluntarily withdrawn, Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said yesterday. They were detected after the Immigration Department tightened its examination of visa requests by overseas helpers in Hong Kong in June. "The department will monitor closely those foreign domestic helpers who have been frequently changing their employers in the past 12 months," Lai said in the Legislative Council in reply to a question from lawmaker Felix Chung Kwok-pan. "This is to prevent them from exploiting the arrangements under a premature termination of contact." Most domestic workers come from Indonesia and the Philippines. Since the new visa application scheme began, the department has received 40,000 applications from helpers of which 1,372 or 3.4 per cent of the applicants were suspected of job hopping - meaning they had changed employers frequently without a proper reason. In October, foreign domestic workers employers' associations accused some of having colluded with employment agencies to make gains by ending contacts prematurely or behaving badly to get themselves fired to obtain severance pay. They were said to have exploited "loopholes" in the Immigration Ordinance, under which employers are required to pay for the helpers' flights home in addition to severance pay. Helpers are obliged to leave the city within 14 days, but some helpers would go neighbouring cities such as Macau before taking up a new job at another household - pocketing the payment for a flight ticket home, the employers said. Lai suggested that employers should not pay cash to helpers for their return flights when terminating their contracts. Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said six employment agencies had been convicted of violations last year. He said the government would prosecute or cancel the licences of violators. Agencies have also been accused of helping arrange loans for helpers, which ties up much of their salary and restricts their ability to leave bad employers. Since recent helper-abuse cases came to light, Cheung said, the government was considering whether to tighten the licence rules for agencies to restrict them from getting involved in loans.