Hong Kong’s government, facing calls to limit strains on the city’s health and social services, won an appeal against a ruling that would have cleared the way for foreign maids to seek permanent residency.
An immigration ordinance which prevented the helpers from applying for the status is constitutionally valid, Chief Judge Andrew Cheung wrote in a judgment issued today by the Court of Appeal.
The lower court’s decision in September would have allowed 117,000, or a third of the maids working in the former British colony, to apply. That polarized public opinion, with political parties warning an influx might add to the burden on resources in the Chinese city of 7.1 million.
Maids are in the city “to meet society’s acute demand for domestic helpers which cannot be satisfactorily met by the local labor market,” Cheung wrote in his judgment. “Their stays in Hong Kong are highly regulated so as to ensure that they are here to fulfill the special, limited purpose for which they have been allowed to come here in the first place, and no more.”
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.
“The government should be very pleased with the verdict,” said Joseph Wong, a visiting professor in public administration at City University of Hong Kong. “If the foreign maids feel this decision is unfair, they can still appeal this ruling.”
Philippine-born Evangeline Banao Vallejos, who has lived in the former British colony for 25 years, brought the challenge against her rejected residence application. Her lawyer, Gladys Li, argued that other expatriates such as bankers and cooks could gain right of abode after seven years. Li also said restricting maids from applying for residence doesn’t fall within the government’s right to control immigration.
In February, the government challenged the September ruling made by Judge Johnson Lam, 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.
“It is a fundamental principle in international law that a sovereign state has the power to admit, exclude and expel aliens,” Cheung wrote in his judgment today. He upheld Lam’s earlier ruling that the case isn’t about discrimination.
Permanent-resident status 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. Most of the helpers in the city are from the Philippines and Indonesia.
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 Basic Law is the de-facto constitution that Hong Kong adopted after the British handed the city back to China in 1997. The special administrative region was guaranteed an independent judiciary for 50 years under the “one country, two systems” framework.
The case is Vallejos Evangeline Banao and Commissioner of Registration, CACV204/2011 in Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal.
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