A Philippine woman whose application for permanent residence in Hong Kong was rejected on the basis that she is a foreign domestic helper will appeal to the city’s highest court.
Judges Andrew Cheung, Frank Stock and Robert Tang of Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal gave Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a maid who has lived and worked in the city since 1986, permission to appeal a March ruling.
Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal will decide whether an immigration rule excluding foreign domestic helpers from becoming eligible for permanent residence is constitutional under the city’s Basic Law. The government argues the imported workers live in the special administrative region under restrictions that make them a separate group. Vallejos’ lawyers say the maids aren’t different from other kinds of workers and should have the same rights.
Cheung said today that the question to be decided is if the immigration law is inconsistent with the Basic Law.
Hong Kong’s government, faced with calls to limit the strain on public resources, fought a September ruling that would have allowed a potential 117,000 people, or one-third of the city’s foreign maids according to government figures cited in court, to apply to live in former British colony without a visa, take up any jobs, and vote.
Under the immigration department’s domestic helper importation program, the foreign worker must live with their employer and be paid a minimum wage of $3,740 ($482) a month.
“Their stays in Hong Kong are highly regulated so as to ensure that they are here to fulfill the special, limited purpose for which they have been allowed to come here in the first place, and no more,” Cheung wrote in his March judgment that overturned the September ruling by a lower court.
In 2004, maids contributed HK$13.8 billion to the economy, or one percent of Hong Kong’s output, according to a report by the Asian Migrant Centre, a non-governmental organization.
The Basic Law is the de-facto constitution that Hong Kong adopted after the British handed the city back to China in 1997. The special administrative region was guaranteed an independent judiciary for 50 years under the “one country, two systems” framework.
The case is Vallejos Evangeline Banao and Commissioner of Registration, CACV204/2011 in Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal.