Monday, 25 March 2013

HK's Domestic Helpers Denied Residency

Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal made its ruling on domestic helpers today
Today the Court of Final Appeal ruled domestic helpers were not allowed to seek permanent residency in Hong Kong.

In a 49-page document, the court said, "The FDH (foreign domestic helper) is obliged to return to the country of  origin at the end of the contract, and is told from the outset that admission is not for the purposes of settlement and that dependents cannot be brought to reside in Hong Kong."

This decision overturns a two-year legal challenge brought by Filipina maid Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a mother of five who has lived in Hong Kong since 1986. She had won a High Court ruling in 2011, granting her the right to request permanent residency status. Most foreigners can apply for the status after seven consecutive years of stay, but this right is denied to the over 300,000 domestic helpers in the city.

With this ruling, some 1,000 applications from domestic helpers to seek permanent residency will most probably be rejected and the Hong Kong government may hope that's the end of the matter.

But perhaps the fight isn't really about residency in Hong Kong, but more about domestic helpers getting recognition for their contribution in keeping the city's economy booming and their desire for more respect.

"With the court's ruling today, it gave its judicial seal to unfair treatment and the social exclusion of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong," said Eman Villanueva, spokesman for labour rights group Asian Migrants' Coordinating Body.

He was outside the court with others chanting, "No to discrimination" and "We are not slaves".

Many of them live in deplorable conditions, work extremely long hours and overtime for only HK$3,920 ($505) a month. In some horrible cases, there have been domestic workers who were physically and mentally abused by their employers.

However on the flip side there are some who live relatively happily with their employers, literally bringing children up and for the most part considered part of the family. 

Domestic workers will feel today's ruling is racist, though the Hong Kong government will deny this. But the law is the law...

Meanwhile it was a relief to hear the Court of Final Appeal say there was no need to refer the Right of Abode question to Beijing for a final say. This would have further eroded Hong Kong's rule of law when the city prides itself on its judicial independence.

And so now it will be up to Hong Kong courts to decide if children born here of mainland parents, none of whom reside in the city, are given right of abode.

The legal challenge continues.

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