Skip to main content

Hong Kong's foreign maids lose residency fight

By Georgia McCafferty, for CNN
March 25, 2013 -- Updated 0933 GMT (1733 HKT)
Campaigners outside Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal on March 25, 2013.
Campaigners outside Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal on March 25, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hong Kong's highest court rejects final appeal of Filipino workers to gain residency
  • Case had implications for the future independence of the Hong Kong judiciary
  • Chief Justice: domestic helpers "told from the outset that admission is not for the purposes of settlement"
  • Lawyers argued immigration rules excluding foreign domestic helpers were unconstitutional

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Hong Kong's highest court on Monday rejected the final appeal of two Filipino workers to gain permanent residency in Hong Kong, dealing a blow to thousands of foreign domestic helpers seeking to make the Chinese territory their permanent home.

The Court of Final Appeal also rejected a request from the Hong Kong government to seek Beijing's clarification on a previous interpretation of the city's constitution regarding residency rights, in a case that had implications for the independence of Hong Kong's judiciary.

Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma called any ruling on the request "unnecessary" given the court's decision on the application.

Tens of thousands of domestic helpers -- mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia - often spend years, and sometimes decades, working and living in the homes of Chinese and foreigners living in Hong Kong.

While other foreign workers can apply for permanent residency after spending seven consecutive years in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, domestic helpers are excluded from the law.

Justice Ma wrote in his ruling that foreign domestic helpers are "told from the outset that admission is not for the purposes of settlement."

The ruling was greeted with disappointment by campaigners.

"It's very unfortunate and it's sad but in a way it will make us stronger as it highlights the social exclusion that foreign domestic workers face in Hong Kong," said Cynthia Tellez, General Manager of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong maids vow to fight court ruling
Hong Kong maid wins residency case

"This really just reinforces this situation...that in terms of advocacy (for foreign domestic helpers) we need to do a lot more work."

Lawyers for Filipino maid, Evangeline Vallejos, had argued that immigration rules excluding foreign domestic helpers were unconstitutional and that helpers were entitled to the same treatment as professional expatriates.

One of the lawyers, Mark Daly, said that they were "very disappointed" with the ruling but will continue to fight for the rights of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong.

"We respect it (the judgment) but we think our arguments were stronger in the law and in principle," he said. "We will keep fighting both inside and outside the court for human rights."

In 2011, The Court of First Instance came down in favor of Vallejos, ruling that the provision excluding domestic helpers should be struck down.

But last year, the Court of Appeal's slammed the door shut again, stating that the Hong Kong legislature "has a free hand in defining, refining, elaborating and adapting" the Basic Law's expression of "ordinarily resident," within certain limits.

It's very unfortunate and it's sad
Cynthia Tellez

More than 117,000 maids would have been eligible for permanent residency if the appeal had been upheld. A total of about 292,000 foreign domestic workers live in the territory.

Domestic helpers are a financial lifeline to their home countries -- remittances from Hong Kong to the Philippines exceeded $420 million in 2012, according to figures from the Philippines' central bank, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Studies show domestic helpers contribute billions to the Hong Kong economy in terms of childcare and care for the elderly.

The decision by the Court of Final Appeals not to refer the case to Beijing for its ruling was welcomed by Hong Kong's legal community, many of whom had expressed concern that the request to send the issue to China for its decision undermined the court's independence.

"On this issue of referral the court has applied exactly the standards it has applied in the past and it reiterates the independence of Hong Kong's judiciary," Michael Davis, a lawyer from Hong Kong University said.

The Hong Kong government's request for the court to seek Beijing's interpretation highlighted the sometimes difficult relationship between Hong Kong and China.

Any ruling could have affected the status of children born in the city to mainland Chinese mothers whose husbands are non-Hong Kong residents. Under Hong Kong's constitution these children are granted the right of abode, and in recent years many Chinese mothers had been coming to Hong Kong to give birth.

In January, the Hong Kong government issued a policy that bans Chinese mainland women with non-local husbands from booking public hospitals in Hong Kong to give birth.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Tethered to an IV drip, 71-year-old Shin Young Ja lies under a thin fleece blanket, nursing a broken back and wracked with survivor's guilt.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1148 GMT (1948 HKT)
The Vice-Principal of Danwon High School was rescued from sinking ferry last week. Two days later he took his own life, wracked with survivor's guilt.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
Family members of the missing passengers are pinning slim hopes on floundering air pockets.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 0629 GMT (1429 HKT)
The world's most memorable accommodations don't always come with five stars. Sewer pipe hotel, anyone?
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 0201 GMT (1001 HKT)
Love eating? Money? Appreciate efficient population density? HK might be the city for you.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
Prince George takes a special interest in an Australian animal on a zoo trip.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 0934 GMT (1734 HKT)
The Hadza are one of the last communities of hunter-gatherers in the world -- but losing their land.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 0122 GMT (0922 HKT)
In choosing to change a traditional practice, Francis is being as radical as Jesus was in his own time.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
Too weak. Can't handle pressure. Unattractive to sponsors. Susie Wolff has heard it all.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1107 GMT (1907 HKT)
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
It's like finding a needle in a universe-wide haystack. Researchers have located a planet roughly the size of Earth that could be habitable.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 0940 GMT (1740 HKT)
Dubai, long champion of all things biggest, longest and most expensive, will soon have some competition from a neighboring country.
ADVERTISEMENT