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Hong Kong Maids Lose Final Appeal for Permanent Residency
The Asian Lawyer
Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal has rejected a bid to give domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia the right to seek permanent residency in the territory.
The decision Monday ends a two-year case brought forward by Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a domestic worker and mother of five who has lived in Hong Kong since 1986. Hong Kong law permits most expatriates who have lived and worked there continuously for seven years to apply for permanent resident status, but the government maintains that provision does not apply to domestic workers who come to Hong Kong under specific contracts.
Vallejos, who was represented by Hong Kong human rights lawyer Mark Daly, had argued that that exception violated Hong Kong's Basic Law, the mini-constitution that came into effect after the handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997. The Court of First Instance of the Hong Kong High Court agreed with Vallejos in a 2011 ruling but the Court of Appeal overturned that decision the following March.
In its decision Monday, the Court of Final Appeal said that the special contractual restrictions that apply to Hong Kong's 300,000 domestic workers put them in a different category from other foreign residents and it was not unconstitutional to exempt them from eligibility for permanent residency.
"The [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," the Court of Final Appeal said in a written judgment.
The idea of granting permanent residency to domestic workers had been wildly unpopular among Hong Kong citizens, who fear mounting competition for jobs and public resources. Had the Court of Final Appeal ruled in favor of Vallejos, the government would likely have faced pressure to ask Beijing for an interpretation of the Basic Law, a move that might have undermined Hong Kongs reputation for judicial independence.
The ruling means that foreign domestic helpers will continue to be excluded from eligibility to vote and to live in Hong Kong without a work visa. It also means that if they leave an employer, they have only two weeks to find a new job before being required to leave. They receive a minimum wage of $505 per month and are guaranteed one day off a week.