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HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s top court yesterday began a hearing to decide if the hundreds of thousands of domestic workers who make a living in the Asian financial hub are eligible to seek residency.
The case, brought by Filipina maid Evangeline Banao Vallejos, could reopen the controversial issue of the city’s judicial independence from Beijing and whether the children of mainland Chinese parents can stay in Hong Kong.
Vallejos won a High Court ruling in 2011, granting her the right to request permanent residency status, denied to foreign maids until then.
The government appealed against that the ruling in March, arguing the authorities had discretionary power to decide who was eligible for residency and that restrictions on maids were not unconstitutional or discriminatory.
Hong Kong’s 300,000 foreign maids receive a minimum wage of HK$3,920 ($505) a month and benefits such as one guaranteed day off a week, but rights groups say they face discrimination and a lack of legal protection from abusive employers.
Campaigners argue that they should not be treated differently from others who flock to the former British colony to seek professional work and are eligible to apply for permanent residency after seven years.
“If you have a purpose that is regular and your presence is lawful and your presence is here for seven years continuously... and there has been no discontinuity, you would expect to succeed,” Vallejos’ lawyer Michael Fordham said in court.
The government has said the case should be referred to Beijing for its reinterpretation of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution which sets out the city’s semi-autonomous status and rights since its return to China in 1997. If that were to happen, Beijing would also need to decide on the status of children born to mainland Chinese parents who weren’t permanent residents at the time of their birth, according to Basic Law expert Professor Lin Feng.
Lin said the government’s request to the court “puts the judiciary under pressure, but they can say no and we don’t need to seek clarification”.
In 1999 the Court of Final Appeal ruled that children of people who have right of abode also have that right, even if their parents were not permanent residents at the time of their birth.
Beijing subsequently ruled that children born outside Hong Kong were only eligible for right of abode if at least one parent was already a permanent resident. AFP