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
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1915 GMT (0315 HKT)
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 0345 GMT (1145 HKT)
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2058 GMT (0458 HKT)
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0333 GMT (1133 HKT)
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1607 GMT (0007 HKT)
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1748 GMT (0148 HKT)
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 0959 GMT (1759 HKT)
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1021 GMT (1821 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT