HK court backs Filipino fight for residency

HONG KONG - A Filipino domestic helper won a legal battle to apply for permanent residency in Hong Kong on Friday, a verdict that residents say would open the floodgate to about 300,000 such workers to also claim the right of abode.

By (Reuters)

Published: Fri 30 Sep 2011, 11:51 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 2:08 AM

The decision to grant Vallejos Evangeline Banao the right to apply for residency under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution, could also draw in Beijing which might seek to reinterpret the laws under which the territory is governed, analysts said.

Hong Kong High Court Judge M. H. Lam said it was unconstitutional to deny foreign maids the right of residency even though many were employed on short term, two year contracts, that are often repeatedly renewed.

“On final analysis, these features whether taken individually or collectively cannot take a FDH’s (foreign domestic helper’s) residence out of the concept of ordinary residence,” Lam wrote in the judgement.

While rights activists and the large Filipino community say a ruling in favour of the helper would be a vote for fairness and non-discrimination, many Hong Kong residents oppose such a prospect, fearing it would open the door to a flood of migrants.

“I am personally disappointed by the judgement,” Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang told reporters shortly after the verdict was delivered.

“One thing is quite clear. We are fully prepared for an adverse judgement at this stage and for that reason we would be doing what we need to do,” Tsang said.

A big concern among some politicians in Hong Kong is that the verdict favouring the helper would force the government to ask Beijing for an interpretation of the city’s constitution because of fears of an influx of migrants.

Hong Kong, a British colony for 150 years, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and is supposed to retain a high level of internal autonomy.

In 1999, a ruling by Hong Kong’s highest court that granted the right of abode to many Chinese citizens, was later overturned by China’s top legal body — the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

That move provoked widespread concern with legal experts saying it undermined Hong Kong’s judicial independence.

“A decision in a right of abode case would inevitably have social, economic and political impact on the society. It is not surprising that people in Hong Kong are concerned as to the possible outcome,” judge Lam said.

Under Hong Kong’s constitution, foreigners are entitled to permanent residency — and with it, rights to voting, welfare and other services — if they have resided here for a continuous period of seven years.

But the city’s immigration ordinance excludes some 290,000 foreign domestic workers — 146,000 from Indonesia and 139,000 from the Philippines — from permanent residency. Of these, 117,000 have been continuously working in Hong Kong for more than 7 years and potentially eligible for residency based on the court’s judgement.

Banao has lived in Hong Kong since 1986.

Her lawyer Gladys Li had argued that under Hong Kong’s constitution, non-Chinese nationals who have resided here for seven years on valid travel documents are entitled to permanent residency, and that no exclusions should be made on race or religious grounds.

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