Hong Kong Maids Lose Final Appeal for Residence Rights

Hong Kong’s top court rejected the final appeal of a foreign maid who said the city’s denial of her application for residence rights is unconstitutional.

Foreign domestic helpers are “told from the outset that admission is not for the purposes of settlement,” Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma wrote in a ruling today for the Court of Final Appeal.

A victory for Philippine-born Evangeline Vallejos would have allowed 117,000, or a third of the foreign maids living in the former British colony, to apply to stay in the city of 7.2 million. The court also rejected a government request to seek China’s guidance on the city’s constitution regarding residence rights, which could have affected the status of Hong Kong-born children of mainland Chinese parents.

This is “simply unnecessary” given the court’s decision on the appeal, Ma said.

The government will use the local legal system to address the status of children born to mainland Chinese parents, Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen said today at a briefing.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in his maiden policy address in January that the government will tackle the pressure on public services from babies born to non-local parents “by legal means.” He earlier banned Chinese mothers from giving birth in the city’s hospitals, citing a strain on resources.

Bankers, Cooks

Lawyers for Vallejos and another domestic helper Daniel Domingo, had argued that expatriates such as bankers and cooks can gain the right of abode after living in the city for seven years, and that immigration rules excluding foreign maids are unconstitutional. A lower court ruled in March 2012 that the Basic Law implicitly allows lawmakers to exclude people from the qualifying criteria.

“We will continue to struggle both inside and outside the court with our colleagues so that we no longer teach our children that there’s such a thing as a second-class citizen,” said Mark Daly, a lawyer for Vallejos and Domingo.

Daly said he was glad the court had ruled against seeking an interpretation from Beijing.

“While our compatriots on the mainland struggle to implement the rule of law, we must be vigilant to safeguard it in Hong Kong and lead the way,” he said.

Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s constitution, guarantees it a separate legal system from the rest of China. The national legislature has issued four previous interpretations to the city’s constitution, covering issues including electoral reforms and residency rights.

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee ruled in 1999 that Hong Kong’s constitution limited residence rights, overturning a court ruling that could have allowed as many as 1.67 million migrants to the city from the mainland. In that case, Hong Kong’s government sought an interpretation directly after losing in court.

The case is Vallejos Evangeline Banao and Commissioner of Registration, FACV19/2012 in Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal.

(Updates with Justice Secretary’s comment in fifth paragraph.)
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