Up to 15,000 foreign domestic helpers could become permanent Hong
Kong residents if a recent ruling by the Court of Final Appeal is
extended by the Immigration Department to cover them.
The court last month ruled that an Indian cook was entitled to right
of abode after being in the SAR for more than seven years.
Six foreign maids have now submitted applications for right of abode,
claiming that a provision in the immigration ordinance, which
stipulates that they are not "ordinarily resident" in Hong Kong, is
unconstitutional. They have lived here from seven to 14 years.
Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor secretary Aaron Nattress said it was
more than likely that the Immigration Department would reject the
If this did happen, the maids would seek legal aid in a bid to get the
Court of Final Appeal to declare the regulation omitting domestic
helpers from seeking permanent residency was unconstitutional.
Nattress said several barristers had already offered their assistance
should the case get to court. "They told me, `You get the case, then
we will help out'," he said.
Nattress said the court ruling in the case of Indian Prem Singh could
pave the way for thousands more foreign maids with seven years'
residence in Hong Kong to seek right of abode.
In its ruling on February 11, the court said a discretionary provision
in the immigration ordinance, that required applicants to be granted
unconditional stay before they could apply for permanent residency,
The court ruled that the provision conflicted with Article 24 of the
Basic Law which stipulates that people who have entered Hong Kong with
valid travel documents, resided continuously for seven years and
intended to take Hong Kong as their permanent place of residence are
entitled to right of abode.
Nattress said before the maids could get right of abode, they would
have to get the court to throw out another provision in the ordinance
which dates back to July 1997 and states that foreign maids are not
"ordinarily resident in Hong Kong". "A senior immigration official
has privately told me that `you may well be right'. Another one also
told me `they may win'," Nattress said.
"After all, the government cannot enact a local law that contradicts
its constitutional laws."
He said the applicants wanted to fight for right of abode as they
wanted to develop their professional careers rather than continue
"They would like to use their professional qualifications to develop
better careers. They would like to be able to have their families join
them here like everyone else," he said.
"They do not want to be on welfare. They want to be self-supportive.
They are willing to work, to pay tax and to contribute to society. If
the Basic Law says they have a right to stay after seven years, then
they want that opportunity. They do not want to be discriminated
Nattress said the maids also wanted to challenge the rule that forced
them to leave Hong Kong within two weeks of losing their jobs.
"It's really ridiculous. Some of them have been here for 14 years and
yet they have to get out within 14 days," he said.
Nattress said he had informed the office of the Philippine Senate
president Franklin Drilon and Philippine Consul-General Victoria
Bataclan who were very positive about the move.
However, barrister-legislator Audrey Eu, who won the case for Prem
Singh, was not upbeat about the maids' chances. She said their case
involved a different legal point from that of her client, and she was
not certain they came under the provisions of the Basic Law. "It's a
very complex legal [issue]," she said.
Eu said the maids' case revolved around whether their stay in Hong
Kong counted as "ordinarily resident". This point did not arise in
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