In a landmark decision, Hong Kong’s highest court has ruled against granting residency to domestic workers.
The decision by five judges in the Court of Final Appeal has dashed the hopes of maids and home helps who aspire to be permanent residents of Hong Kong.
The court ruled that they may not apply for permanent residence even after seven years, the period that normally applies to other foreigners under the law.
Advocacy groups say the decision is not only discriminatory, but also socially exclusive.
Sen Lam from Radio Australia speaks with Eni Lestari, spokeswoman of Asian Migrants Coordinating Body. It’s an alliance in Hong Kong for domestic workers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
“This a very sad and very disappointing decision, that the court is also giving a stamp (sic) to the other departments in Hong Kong to allow such discrimination to even exist in the law and also the practice of the Hong Kong government. Now we can tell the public that such discrimination against foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong really exists, not only because we feel it, but even the law implements discrimination by denying (foreign workers) a chance of being PR (permanent residents) in Hong Kong.”
Q. And Eni, you say it’s disappointing for the domestic workers, but isn’t it in their contract, that their tenure does not guarantee them eventual permanent residency in Hong Kong?
“No, the contract only states the living conditions of domestic workers in the employer’s house. It doesn’t say at all, that they will never be Hong Kong permanent residents – that is, under the Hong Kong Immigration Policies, that domestic workers are the only bigger sector, who can’t have PR in Hong Kong.”
Q. And do you think many domestic workers in Hong Kong, from foreign lands, want to or aspire to permanent residency?
“There’re many domestic workers who do not really aspire to be Hong Kong residents in the first place. Among the Indonesians – I can say, since I’m Indonesian – most of them will always want to go home to Indonesia, and only a few who think they may have the capability of even living in Hong Kong, who might want (to stay). But the problem is, even that chance of applying, is not even there. So even if they have the probability, they will not be able to apply at all.”
“And also, from the fact, when we won the first hearing, less than one thousand applied to the Immigration Department, unlike what the government has claimed, that there’ll be a 125-thousand domestic workers applying, if we win.”
Q. Are you saying the Hong Kong authorities are exercising double standards here, where foreign domestic workers are concerned?
“Yes, actually, they enforced a ‘double requirement’ but beyond that, for us, this is about social exclusion. They’re intentionally excluding foreign domestic workers, who have been helping Hong Kong families, and who’ve been helping the Hong Kong economy, from the social benefits. And the only reason is because we’re foreign domestic workers. For us, it’s about class discrimination.”
Q. I suppose one might argue, this is because of the sheer numbers – that there’re over 300-thousand foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong?
“Yes, but a number does not mean that all of us will apply. And yet, remember, the law says all foreigners who actually enter legally in Hong Kong, and then live normally in Hong Kong, who have a proper job in Hong Kong, is actually equivalent in the eyes of the law. But now, when it comes to implementation, it’s only foreign domestic workers who’re being rejected in the (eyes of) the law.”
Q. What about the Evangeline Vellejos herself, the Filipina maid who brought this action, and who appealed? She’s lived in Hong Kong since 1986, so in real terms, what does this mean for her?
“Well, we spoke to the lawyer today, we did not meet her, because she doesn’t really want to be exposed in the public. But according to her lawyer, Evangeline just said that she was very sad, and this is unfair – that’s what she said – this is unfair.”
Q. Many people in Hong Kong feel that the population is already bursting at the seams and there’s no room to give foreign domestic workers permanent residency. But what do you think employers feel about it, because the domestic workers are a great resource to many of Hong Kong’s employers?
“I can say that many of the Hong Kong people, even employers, have a very strong fear of even recognising such rights for domestic workers. They’re so afraid, because they’ve been given wrong information by the government, even the political parties, who’re very anti-migrant workers, and very racist, I can say. They’ve been telling the public, that if they allow these foreign domestic workers to be Hong Kong permanent residents, there’ll be 125-thousand who will apply. There will be alot of babies and families coming over here – that we will actually eat the subsidies of the Hong Kong people. But is it true, that many foreign domestic workers want to be Hong Kong permanent residents? From the reality that we found on the ground, many of them (foreign workers) still want to go home.”