Last post I wrote about an interesting article I’d happen across in The Economist on Filipino migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, and also alluded to a subsequent post further on the issue. That same week I had been browsing The Standard (one of HK’s free papers), and came across an interesting article about 4 Filipinos bringing their case to court as to why denial of their right to permanent residency in Hong Kong, despite their longtime residence in Hong Kong, is unconstitutional.
As an expat in HK, you quickly learn what it takes to become a “permanent resident” of Hong Kong — this is what really separates the cookies from the crumbs, so to speak, as there are those expats who are relative newbies (from first-years to what may seem like a long term of 4 – 6 years), those hanging on and preparing to hit the lucky 7, and then the real old-timers (plenty of decades-old expats). Both the Basic Law (HK’s constitution, in essence) and the Immigration Ordinance set forth the terms of permanent residence in Hong Kong: “Persons not of Chinese nationality who have entered Hong Kong with valid travel documents, have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years and have taken Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence before or after the establishment of the HKSAR” shall be declared permanent residents of the city.
Somehow, domestic workers, no matter how many decades they have lawfully lived in Hong Kong, are excluded from this rule, because they are not “ordinarily resided in Hong Kong.” Indeed paragraph 6 of schedule 1 of the Immigration Ordinance explicitly excludes domestic workers as a category.
The first of these cases, filed by Evangeline Vallejos, who has been in Hong Kong since 1986, is scheduled to be heard in the High Court on August 22. And last weekend, a rally was held in support of Vallejos and her petition, in the hopes of striking what (to me) is on its face, a direct violation of the Basic Law in Hong Kong.
These cases were actually filed last December, and in the interim, many have urged against these petitioners and asserted that by granting foreign domestic workers, who have a special visa with strict limitations (is Hong Kong the only nation that has a separate line at immigration for foreign domestic workers?), would increase the population by over half a million by virtue of the present 292,000 foreign domestic workers bringing their families over, increase unemployment from 3.5 to 10%, cause a serious strain to public services as well as driving costs of public services by as much as HK$25 billion, and heaven forbid, be entitled to the newly established minimum wage of HK$28 an hour! Here’s an example of such fear mongering.
I have to admit that despite my strong instinct that this separate treatment of foreign domestic workers is not only unconstitutional, but discriminatory, I do wonder what the impact of granting foreign domestic workers permanent residency would do to Hong Kong.
As things stand, foreign domestic workers, who are primarily South East Asian, have it rough all throughout the region. And yet they do it because their home economies failed them first.
Also, Hong Kong apparently treats its foreign domestic workers better than its nearby nations of Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Japan! Domestic workers in Hong Kong are guaranteed one day off a week, paid sick leave, maternity leave, statutory public holidays, allowed right to form union and earn at least HK$480 (~US$ 62) a month. Contrast with in Malaysia, where monthly wages are about HK$130 a month, or not even US$17!
As an expat in Hong Kong, I think about how lucky I am to be here too – but should I be treated so differently? I will definitely keep an eye out on updates to these cases.
And by the way, this is most certainly not the first time this issue has come up in the Hong Kong legal system. I wonder how the precedents discussed in this article will come into play here.