By Beh Lih Yi
Saturday, August 13th, 2011
Hong Kong is set to hear later this month a Filipino domestic helper’s legal bid for permanent residency in the southern Chinese city, in a landmark case that has sparked heated debate.
A successful legal challenge will be a first of its kind in Asia, activists said, and a recognition of rights and equality for domestic workers, who are mostly from labor-exporting countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia.
Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a Filipino maid who has worked and lived in Hong Kong since 1986, launched the case last year after her attempts for permanent residency were denied by the city’s immigration authorities.
Under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, a mini constitution, non-citizens are entitled to permanent residency—which allows them to vote and better access to public services—if they have “ordinarily resided” in the city for a continuous seven years.
The immigration laws however specifically exclude the 292,000 foreign domestic helpers.
The case, due to be heard from August 22, has prompted a series of debates with critics fearing that if the court rules in favor, it will open up the floodgates to thousands of foreign maids to apply for permanent residency.
“Just like bankers and teachers, they live here and contribute to the economy, why do we have to differentiate them just because of the nature of their job?” activist Doris Lee told AFP, branding the law “discriminatory”. Lee, of labor rights group Asia Monitor Resource Center, urged Hong Kong to continue to lead in protecting the rights of domestic helpers.
“If successful, (this case would) mark the first where migrant domestic workers could gain the right of abode after they live in the place for a certain number of years,” added the activist.
The government has held special meetings to discuss the possible outcome and is reportedly mulling the possibility of limiting years of service of foreign domestic workers to prevent their bid for residency in the future.
Human rights lawyer Peter Barnes, who represents Vallejos in the test case, said the immigration provision was unconstitutional and described it as “totally unjustifiable discrimination.”
“It shouldn’t even be a question of why they are seeking permanent residency,” said Barnes, who is also representing four other Filipinos who have filed similar bids, in cases due to be heard in October.
“As free human beings, it should be within their rights
to bring their families over, just like any expat who is entitled to bring their family over,” she said. Agence France-Presse