Hong Kong Court Overturns Case Granting Foreign Maids Residency

United Filipinos in Hong Kong chairperson Dolores Balladares, Asian Migrants' Coordinating Body spokesperson Eni Lestari and Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers' representative Ganika Diristiani (from L-R), pose with the court verdict outside the Hi
United Filipinos in Hong Kong chairperson Dolores Balladares, Asian Migrants' Coordinating Body spokesperson Eni Lestari and Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers' representative Ganika Diristiani (from L-R), pose with the court verdict outside the Hi
Ivan Broadhead

The Hong Kong government won a legal appeal Wednesday, overturning the right of foreign domestic workers to claim permanent residency in the southern Chinese city. It's a verdict that advocacy groups describe as discriminatory.

After living and working in Hong Kong for more than a decade, Filipino domestic worker Evangeline Vallejos took the city’s Immigration Department to court last November.

Her aim was to win the same right of permanent abode accorded to thousands of skilled white-collar expats after seven years’ residence - a right defined in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

The High Court found in favor of Vallejos. Its judgment upheld her argument that the Basic Law, effective since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, applies to all people equally.

However, that verdict was overturned by Hong Kong’s appeal court Wednesday. The court concluded: "It is a fundamental principle that a sovereign state has the power to admit, exclude and expel aliens."

Dolores Balladares is chairwoman of United Filipinos in Hong Kong, a migrant worker advocacy group that supports Vallejos.

"We are very disappointed. It discriminates against foreign domestic workers if others can apply for the right of abode, but why not foreign domestic workers," asks Balladares.

Migrant workers' rights vs. state law

While the terms of employment for migrant workers are significantly better in Hong Kong than other Asian countries, including Singapore and Malaysia, maids are permitted just one statutory day of rest a week and are precluded from Hong Kong’s minimum wage legislation. Instead, they often work 15 hours a day - caring for children, cooking and cleaning - for a basic weekly salary of only $110.

Justice Andrew Leung added in the court’s judgment that their exclusion from the provisions of the Basic Law "is a category of exclusion not different in kind, but only in degree, from the pre-existing categories of excluded persons, for instance, Vietnamese refugees and imprisoned or detained persons."

The November judgment was seen as an important advance in the rights of migrant workers across Asia. It sparked protests, though, among Hong Kong’s indigenous Chinese community.

Of the 300,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong - predominantly from the Philippines and Indonesia - about 120,000 fulfill the seven-year residency requirement.

However, politicians and community groups argued that far more, perhaps up to half a million people, would be eligible for permanent residency if maids’ dependent relatives were included in the decision.

Estimates suggested it would cost local taxpayers more than $11 billion to pay for the education, health and other social benefits to which these potential new permanent residents would be entitled.

Balladares argues such fears are misplaced.

"We believe the Philippines is our home and really, we want to return there after working here," she said.

Further appeals expected

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee told reporters that Hong Kong would continue to suspend the 900 applications for permanent abode already made by migrant workers after the November decision. He said he also expected Vallejos to take her case to the Court of Final Appeal.

"Therefore at this stage, the government will not regard the judgment as a final determination of the relevant legal issue," said Lee.

Should Vallejos prevail at the Court of Final Appeal, Lee did not preclude amending the Basic Law, a constitutional process that would require the involvement of the central government in Beijing.

"There are lots of comments on [re]interpretation of the Basic Law by the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress. These are very controversial issues. The amendment of the Basic Law is not yet on our horizon," said Lee.

Approaching Beijing to resolve the abode question would be widely unpopular among a public that fiercely guards its judicial independence from China under the principle of one country, two systems.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Jonathan Huang
March 28, 2012 7:11 PM
last time I checked HK is not an immigrant city. HK is already saturated, even Chinese are hard to resident there, no need to mention Filipinos.

by: Steve Fraser
March 28, 2012 3:18 PM
This is useless and pointless case. At the end, BeiJing has the final say regarding this matter. Why waste $$$$ on this thing when you well know the result will not be favourable. It is pure stupidity for filipinos and indonesians to fight a losing battle. Mark Daly is just taking advantage of these group of people.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs