October 26th, 2011
02:07 PM GMT
Hong Kong, China (CNN) – “There’s still a long battle ahead.”
That’s what Mark Daly, the lawyer for Filipina maid Evangeline Vallejos, first told me after a Hong Kong court today ruled to uphold a prior judge’s historic verdict.
That September 30 judgment: His client – and all other eligible foreign domestic workers here – are entitled to apply for permanent residency. Also known as PR, it has been a right afforded to most white-collar foreign workers but foreign maids have traditionally not been eligible. Partly because of this, many have complained they are treated as second-class citizens.
But perhaps not anymore.
Following Wednesday's court ruling, Daly expects Hong Kong has no choice but to declare Ms. Vallejos a permanent resident. She has worked in Hong Kong for 25 years. Current law stipulates a foreign worker can apply for PR after working in the territory for seven years.
The finding also has ramifications for the estimated 292,000 other foreign maids in Hong Kong. About 117,000 of them – or nearly 40% – can now apply to live here for the rest of their lives.
Emmanuel Villanueva, spokesman for Hong Kong’s Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, conveyed his happiness to me via text.
“This is a victory not only for her but for all foreign domestic workers who have been treated by the HK government unfairly. We hope that the government will implement the judgment immediately.”
That hope, however, may already be dashed. The Hong Kong government filed another appeal right after the ruling.
In previous arguments, Hong Kong officials have cited this socio-economic doomsday scenario: Current Hong Kong taxpayers would be hit with more than $3 billion in social welfare spending for up to half a million new immigrants, spouses and children.
But two analyses in just the past few weeks now counter that.
Hong Kong’s Mission for Migrant Workers released a study aimed at debunking the argument that the extended family of maids would be a burden to Hong Kong society. Of the 162 foreign domestic workers who responded, only 54% of them were actually eligible to apply for PR. Nearly 59% had no dependents under the age of 18.
Furthermore, Paul Yip, a professor of Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong – who also holds a PhD in biostatistics – analyzed the government’s evidence and concluded the findings were “crude, biased, highly-questionable, unrealistic, if not entirely misleading.”
As for fears of a flood of Hong Kong maids, Villanueva of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body readily admits it has been difficult to find foreign domestic workers who want to apply for PR status.
The reason is economic reality: You don't need PR to earn Hong Kong dollars, which provide big bang for the buck for families back in the Philippines and Indonesia.
Says Villanueva, “The right of abode is not a top of concern. Higher wages, shorter working hours and better job protection is more important than getting PR. Foreign domestic workers would rather have jobs here, earn some money and send it back home. (The basic monthly salary of) $3470 can get you one entry-level iPad here. But in the Philippines that can send your children to school. That can feed your family.”
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