Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Confusing new visa regime for domestic helpers angers British expats

Confusing application form for domestic helpers adds to travel expenses, they say, and can result in black marks on non-UK passports

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 June, 2015, 2:57am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 June, 2015, 6:01pm

British expatriates have lambasted as ridiculous and infuriating a new visa regime that has forced some families to cancel their summer holidays back home and led to black marks in the passports of their domestic helpers.

The convoluted paperwork, in place since April, foists on expats an application process they say is not only costly, but is also so tedious that it derails efforts to secure visas for their domestic helpers to go along on the trips to Britain.

"It's an absolute mess," said businessman Jonathan Watkin, whose helper was denied a visa because she did not specify on the form whether her salary was "per month" or "per year".

"It's really stuffed everything up … It has thrown my holiday completely up in the air," Watkin said, adding that the information was required of her elsewhere on the form.

The application cost about HK$4,000, and its rejection meant the domestic helper now had a black mark in her passport that could make future travel difficult, he said.

"We've never done anything wrong. It's purely a technicality on a form that no one understands," he said.

Katie Bolton, who had lived in Hong Kong for seven years, echoed Watkin's sentiments.

"It's very frustrating and expensive," Bolton said. "I'm British, a native English speaker and a university graduate and I couldn't fill in the form properly.

"In the past, the consular desk [in the Hong Kong consulate] could look over the form and advise you. Now, there is no advice," she said.

Bolton said the application procedure, plus her helper's flight tickets, had cost her more than HK$20,000 and resulted in a stain on her helper's immigration record.

The Home Office in London did not reply to Sunday Morning Post inquiries.

The new form came about months after the consulate, located in Admiralty, outsourced its visa processing work last year to a Causeway Bay office that in turn forwarded applications to the British embassy in Manila for consideration.

"Clients who have come to seek advice from us have expressed concern that the online information is hard to navigate and confusing, and they are unable to get help or advice from the visa centre in Causeway Bay," said Philip Smith, of visa advisory group British Connections.

"It would appear that the new form is creating confusion amongst applicants for helper visas."

Smith said the flat refusal of visas was particularly galling for applicants such as Watkin, who had been granted visas for their helpers many times in the past without any issue.

"There is no common sense," Watkin said. "It's a really big problem."