Bloomberg News

Hong Kong Appeals Ruling That Maids Can Apply for Residency

February 21, 2012

(Updates with academic’s comment in fourth paragraph.)

Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s government, facing calls to limit strains on the city’s health and social services, appealed a court ruling that cleared the way for foreign maids to apply for permanent-resident status.

The government today challenged Judge Johnson Lam’s Sept. 30 decision, with its lawyer David Pannick telling the city’s Court of Appeal that lawmakers must be able to define residency requirements in the self-administered Chinese region.

The landmark decision would allow 117,000, or a third of the maids working in Hong Kong, to apply for permanent residency. Some political parties warned such an influx might add to strains on health and education resources in the city of 7 million, where the increasing use of maternity services by women from mainland China has already stirred public opposition.

“The government has to defend the rights of local residents,” said Joseph Wong, visiting professor in public administration at City University of Hong Kong and a former senior civil servant.

Children of mainland Chinese parents born in Hong Kong are entitled to residency and births in the city almost doubled in the decade to 2010, thanks to 232,536 infants born to mainland mothers, according to official statistics.

That’s helped lead to protests including a full-page anonymous advertisement demanding the government stop mainland pregnant women from “invading” the city. The advertisement had a picture of a locust superimposed on a hilltop overlooking Hong Kong’s skyline.

Bankers Unrestricted

Philippine-born Evangeline Banao Vallejos, who has lived in Hong Kong for 25 years, won her challenge against her rejected residence application in September.

Her lawyer, Gladys Li, argued that other expatriates such as bankers and cooks could gain right of abode in the city after seven years. Li also said restricting maids from applying for residence doesn’t fall within the government’s right to control immigration.

The government suspended the processing of permanent- residence applications from maids after Lam ruled that a suspension wouldn’t be considered contempt of court.

The government will argue this week that the lower court should have ruled that foreign domestic helpers should be treated as distinct from other types of residents and that the legislature can modify the part of the Basic Law that governs permanent residency, according to a notice of appeal it filed last October.

The Basic Law is the de-facto constitution that Hong Kong adopted after the British handed the city of 7.1 million residents back to China.

Social Security

Foreign domestic helpers have residence restrictions and can’t accept other jobs. The law mandates a minimum monthly wage of HK$3,740 ($482). In 2004, maids contributed HK$13.8 billion to the economy, or one percent of Hong Kong’s output, according to a report by the Asian Migrant Centre, a non-governmental organization.

Permanent-resident status in Hong Kong confers a legal right to live in the city without a visa, take any jobs, study, or establish a business. The resident has access to benefits such as public housing and social security, and can vote.

The Liberal Party and the leader for New People’s Party, Regina Ip, have previously called on the government to consider seeking an interpretation of the Basic Law by China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress over the case.

The special administrative region was guaranteed an independent judiciary for 50 years under the “one country, two systems” framework following the handover in 1997.

The case is Vallejos Evangeline Banao and Commissioner of Registration, CACV204/2011 in Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal.

--Editors: Douglas Wong, Stan James

To contact the reporters on this story: Debra Mao in Hong Kong at dmao5@bloomberg.net; Sophie Leung in Hong Kong at sleung59@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Douglas Wong at dwong19@bloomberg.net


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