03/28/2012, 00.00
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Government wins appeal in domestic worker residency case

In September, the High Court ruled in favour of Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a Filipino domestic worker, declaring unconstitutional a law that excluded domestic workers from becoming permanent residents. Today, the Court of Appeal overturned the lower court's decision.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Hong Kong government won in a case that could have allowed foreign domestic helpers to apply for residency in the territory. This dashes hopes for the territory's 117,000 foreign domestic workers, who represent one third of all foreign workers, with the largest contingent from the Philippines and Indonesia, after they were raised by a decision taken in September by the High Court in a case involving Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a maid from the Philippines. On that occasion, the court had ruled that excluding maids from a rule allowing foreigners to settle in the city after seven years was unconstitutional.

An immigration ordinance, which prevented domestic workers from applying for residency, is constitutionally valid, Chief Judge Andrew Cheung wrote in a judgment issued today by the Court of Appeal.

Maids, he said, are in the city "to meet society's acute demand for domestic helpers which cannot be satisfactorily met by the local labour market". For this reason, "Their stays in Hong Kong are highly regulated so as to ensure that they are here to fulfil the special, limited purpose for which they have been allowed to come here in the first place, and no more."

Mark Daly, an attorney for Evangeline Banao Vallejos, said he would appeal Wednesday's ruling and go to the Court of Final Appeal.

The High Court ruled on 30 September of last year that Filipino domestic worker Evangeline Banao Vallejos had the right to apply for permanent residency, something that had been denied to foreign maids until then.

The new ruling means that foreign domestic workers cannot look for another job, do not have access to partially free health care services and must accept contract terms set by the authorities, including a very low minimum wage.

Hong Kong's pro-Beijing government is concerned that the first ruling could lead to a flood of residency applications by foreigners.

According to an anti-immigration party, a pro-maids ruling would have opened the floodgates to half a million people, including migrants' spouses and children. This would have pushed up welfare spending by HK$ 25 billion (US$ 3.2 billion), causing unemployment to rise from 3.5 to 10 per cent.

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