HK ruling on right of abode a huge step backward for migrant workers’ rights

Migrante Partylist today bewailed the recent ruling of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal saying that foreign household service workers (HSWs) cannot apply for permanent residency.

The said decision is the result of a two-year battle by Filipina domestic worker Evangeline Banao Vallejos, an overseas Filipino worker who has lived in Hong Kong since 1986.

On September 2011, Vallejos was granted a lower court ruling allowing her the right to seek permanent residency in Hong Kong. The decision, however, was overturned when the Hong Kong government filed and won an appeal on March 2012 on grounds that foreign HSWs should be “highly regulated so as to ensure that they are (t)here to fulfill the special, limited purpose for which they have been allowed to come (t)here in the first place, and no more”.

According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Partylist chairperson and first nominee, “The Hong Kong ruling is a huge step backward for migrant workers’ rights. It is blatant discrimination and an outright violation of basic rights of migrant workers in Hong Kong. The question here is why are other foreign workers allowed to apply for permanent residency while HSWs are prohibited from doing so?”

In Hong Kong, foreign workers, except foreign domestic workers, are allowed to apply for permanent residency after having lived uninterrupted in the country for at least seven years.

“What could have been a landmark victory for foreign HSWs in Hong Kong was effectively retracted by the Hong Kong ruling. We are back where we started. The decision affects not only Vallejos but the more than 300,000 HSWs working in Hong Kong,” Bragas-Regalado said.

Bragas-Regalado said that the Hong Kong ruling also consequently denies foreign HSWs in Hong Kong other basic rights, such as the access to voting rights and the right to live in the city without visa.

Aside from the recent Hong Kong ruling, foreign HSWs in Hong Kong also complain of other new conditions and policies imposed by the Hong Kong government on foreign HSWs – including the exclusion from the statutory minimum wage, the mandatory line-in employment arrangement, and other rules that indicate discrimination and unequal treatment for foreign HSWs in Hong Kong. ###