DAB raises alarm over rights of foreign helpers

Updated: 2011-07-27 07:27

By Joseph Li (HK Edition)

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Party claims unemployment rate will skyrocket if maids win right of abode

There will be a sharp surge in unemployment and welfare expenditure if foreign domestic helpers were granted right of abode in the city, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) warned on Tuesday.

The party urged the government to devise contingency plans at once.

Lawmaker Regina Ip said it will be a big blow if the foreign domestic helpers are successful in their judicial review demanding the right of abode.

Apart from administrative measures to shorten their stays in Hong Kong, Ip said it may be necessary to seek interpretation from the National People's Congress on Basic Law provisions or to amend the Basic Law in the long term.

Law Society President Junius Ho expressed greater optimism, saying the Immigration Ordinance has imposed on the foreign maids conditions of employment and limitation on their stay in Hong Kong.

He also said the court will consider the "floodgate effect" of hundreds of thousands of foreign maids becoming permanent residents.

The Court of First Instance will hear the judicial review of Filipino maids seeking right of abode on Sept 22.

It is estimated by the government that about 125,000 foreign maids have remained in Hong Kong for no less than seven years.

If their case is upheld, DAB Vice-Chairman Starry Lee Wai-king said many local people fear it may place an unbearable burden on the city.

The total number of eligible persons may increase to 500,000 if their spouses and children are included, she said.

If the 125,000 foreign maids entered the job market, they would immediately push up the jobless rate from 3.5 percent to 7 percent.

Unemployment rate would soar to 10 percent if they and their spouses entered the job market.

The sudden increase in the number of adult and juvenile permanent residents would further trigger huge expenditures on welfare, education, health and housing, she said.

She called on the government to make full assessment of the situation and devise contingency plans, but added it is too early to say if interpretation of the Basic Law should be sought.

Regina Ip, who was former security minister and immigration director, anticipated the applicants may challenge the constitutionality of the Immigration Ordinance, given that Article 24 of the Basic Law says persons not of Chinese nationality can become permanent residents if they have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years.

She said she believes foreign maids who have stayed in Hong Kong for a very long time and have little connection with their home country will be cited as the applicants.

If the government loses, it should seek ultimate appeal, apply for a stay of the ruling and devise appropriate administrative measures.

Without saying whether she backs the interpretation of the Basic Law, she suggested the interpretation, if any, should take place before the ruling.

Albert Chen, a professor at the University of Hong Kong and member of the Committee for the Basic Law, said the Immigration Ordinance restricts the stay of foreign domestic helpers as not "ordinarily resided" in Hong Kong.

In his view, the court needs to clarify whether the meaning of "ordinarily resided" in local enactments fulfills the legislative intent of the Basic Law.

joseph@chinadailyhk.com

China Daily

(HK Edition 07/27/2011 page1)