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We sail on the same boat

We sail on the same boat

There is a plethora of issues when it comes to problems underlying foreign domestic worker (FDW) policies. These complications often share counterparts with the locals who experience similar troubles with different provenances. To see this, one needs only to visit the infamous ‘live-in’ rule.

The live-in rule mandates the FDW to reside in the employer’s residence. The rule, though does not find its place in different pieces of legislation, has acquired a quasi-legal status through policies. Between the employer and the workers, it is practically an indispensable term in the standard employment contract. Between the Immigration Department and the workers,, it is both a criterion for employment, visa and an undertaking placed upon them by the Immigration Department[1]. Breaching this undertaking may potentially incur a fine of $150,000 and imprisonment for 14 years[2].

The centrality and purposes of this rule can be understood at once by anyone having stepped onto the soil in HK. Crowded living space, inadequate housing supply, staggering real estate prices; many spend more than 5 years in literal cage-home waiting for public housing[3]. Importation of FDWs allows this ‘land problem’ to seep through the locals and reach these workers.

The live-in rule per se does not constitute an issue. Problems appear when the rule is coupled with other conditions. Employers are obliged to provide ‘suitable accommodation … with reasonable privacy’[4]. The standards of suitability and reasonableness are left unexplained. For workers with scrupulous employers, the live-in rule can be conducive to creating a harmonious working environment. For the less fortunate ones, the rule makes them prone to overwork, abuses, and servitude. Whereas the locals are advocating for privacy and being able to stay ‘offline’ from work, their employees are seeking the same, but in a less empowered fashion.

There is no panacea to these multi-faceted problems. Issues spawned by the rule await a genuine and comprehensive review of policies. What should be stressed, however, is that whilst the locals are seeking changes based on laudable objectives and moral grounds, foreign domestic workers are looking for nothing but the same treatment based on the same principles. Unlike the locals, they lack access to justice.

While the locals seeking reforms are met with tear gas, their workers may have been in tears for years. Placing blame does not solve the issues but please, be the change you wish to see.

  1. For an elaborated summary of the live-in rule, see Lubiano Nancy Almorin v Director of Immigration [2019] 1 HKLRD 1141

  2. Immigration Ordinance (Cap 115), s 42

  3. Wong & Cheung, ‘公屋輪候時間維持5.5年高位 申請宗數逾25.46萬’ (HK01, 10 May 2019) <> accessed 23 November 2019 (only in Chinese)

  4. Clause 3A of Schedule to Standard Employment Contract (ID 407) <> accessed 23 November 2019

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