Hong Kong Judge Reserves Decision on Maid’s Residency Challenge

A Hong Kong Judge said he will try to rule by the end of next month on a Philippine maid’s claim that the rejection of her application for permanent residence in the Chinese city was unconstitutional.

Judge Johnson Lam ended two and a half days of arguments today after hearing the government’s lawyer say that Hong Kong’s Basic Law allows lawmakers to determine the status of foreign residents and that the maid wasn’t eligible to apply.

“The residence of foreign domestic workers is subject to restrictions,” David Pannick told the Court of First Instance again today.

Evangeline Banao Vallejos, who has lived in Hong Kong since 1986, challenged the rejection of her application, with her lawyer asking the court why other expatriates such as bankers or cooks can apply for permanent residence after living in the city continuously for seven years.

“Foreign domestic workers are the same as other foreign employees,” Vallejos’ lawyer Gladys Li said yesterday. “And their employment conditions are similar to expatriate bankers, too, as both may return to their home countries at their employers’ expense every two years.”

Public Resource Strain?

A victory for Vallejos would open the door for Hong Kong’s 300,000 foreign maids to apply for permanent-resident status if they meet the seven-year residency requirement, something at least three political parties in Hong Kong have said would strain health care, education and public housing resources.

“There is no basis in the plain language for saying that some groups have to satisfy a higher bar and certainly nothing that says some groups cannot qualify at all,” said Li referring to the Basic Law provisions related to residence rights.

Pannick said yesterday this implied that lawmakers have no role in interpreting the Basic Law.

“We submit that the article must be read in context and that it does confer limited power on the legislature to determine this matter” of ordinary or extraordinary residence, he said.

Hong Kong’s population is 95 percent ethnic Chinese, according to the most recent census data from 2006. Permanent residence rights include voting, setting up a business, and applying for spouses and other family members to move to Hong Kong.

The case is Vallejos Evangeline Banao, also known as Vallejos Evangeline B. and Commissioner of Registration, HCAL124/2010 in Hong Kong’s Court of First Instance.

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