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For Domestic Workers, Can Hong Kong Ever Be Home?

Hong Kong prides itself as a bastion of freedom and human rights in juxtaposition to the neighboring communist China; one must look no further than the current pro-democracy protests to see that. Yet the over 380,000 foreign domestic workers (FDW) in Hong Kong often do not share in those privileges. [1] As things currently stand, an exception in section 2(4) of the Immigration Ordinance excludes domestic workers from the typical requirement of seven years of residence that entitles others to permanent resident status [2]. While there is no such restriction in the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR, multiple courts have upheld the restriction in cases such as that of Evangaline Vallejos in 2013. [3]

FDWs in Hong Kong do not possess many privileges and rights that permanent residents enjoy. Assuming an FDW continues to find an employer, they can stay for decades, possess an HKID and utilize public services. However, without permanent residence, the status of an FDW in Hong Kong is subject to the whim of employers who can terminate them at any time and immigration officials who can deport or refuse them entry, meaning their future in Hong Kong is often held on by a thread. Just last month, an Indonesian FDW, Yuli Riswati, who had been reporting on the current protests was arrested and has been detained for 28 days, facing deportation and silencing a rare voice from this community. [4] Similarly, FDWs frequently face mistreatment but are unable to speak out of fear of retribution by employers or a government who are their only claim to a life in Hong Kong, contributing to the cycle of abuse.

Proponents of the status quo offer some practical arguments such as the cost of allowing so many new people to seek permanent residence, projecting a cost to the taxpayers of US$3.2 billion per year, though estimates for FDW’s contribution to Hong Kong’s economy sit at around US$12.6 billion annually. [5] [6] Additionally, Hong Kong’s population of just 7.4 million already includes 380,000 domestic workers, nearly double the 2005 figure of 223,394 and it is not entirely clear how a pathway to permanent resident status would impact the city’s FDW population[7]. But what is clear is that for many FDWs, Hong Kong is home, but that sense of abode is tenuous and their status can jeopardize their safety and strip them of many fundamental freedoms Hong Kong proudly boasts.

- Nasir Asad

  1. Leung H, “Here's How Much Domestic Workers Add to Hong Kong's Economy” (TimeMarch 6, 2019) <> accessed December 1, 2019

  2. Immigration Ordinance 1972, s 2(4)

  3. “Foreign Helpers' Plea for Permanent Residency Fails” (South China Morning PostMarch 26, 2013) <> accessed December 1, 2019

  4. Chan H, “Indonesian Migrant Worker Who Covered Hong Kong Protests Detained for 28 Days, Faces Deportation over Visa Issue” (Hong Kong Free Press HKFPDecember 2, 2019) <> accessed December 1, 2019

  5. “Hong Kong's Foreign Maids Lose Legal Battle for Residency” (ReutersMarch 25, 2013) <> accessed December 1, 2019

  6. Leung H, “Here's How Much Domestic Workers Add to Hong Kong's Economy” (TimeMarch 6, 2019) <> accessed December 1, 2019

  7. “Domestic Workers Prop up Hong Kong's Economy, so Why Exclude Them?” (South China Morning PostMarch 6, 2019) <> accessed December 1, 2019

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