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Ask Andreas: My helper does not want to go back home, what should I do?

ExpertsPost Category - ExpertsExpertsFamily LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life - Post Category - Domestic HelpersDomestic Helpers

My helper has been with us for 2.5 years now, is unmarried, and has no children. She does not want to go home to the Philippines as she says that her extended family all have their hands out when she visits. We’ve offered to send her for a week or two at a time of her choosing, or for longer while we go away over the summer. She would prefer to just exit to Macau and back in hopes of that being sufficient… but we’re not sure that it is.

Of course it does not really matter to us if she prefers not to go home, but when she renewed her contract and visa, this stated that she was required to take a trip home within the first year. For her first contract, we just paid her the equivalent… but I worry it is not quite legitimate. 

Is she absolutely required to visit the Philippines, or can she just exit Hong Kong and re-enter?

This is a common situation. Helpers are often the sole breadwinners in a family, or more accurately, the only ones that have a salary that allows them more than the basics. As such, they are typically expected to pay for everything when they get home.

A note before we continue: During annual leave, (not between contracts,) helpers are free to stay in Hong Kong, subject to their visa being valid – and it can be extended – and you are not required to pay for a trip home. Therefore this discussion is about leave between contracts. Another note before we continue: I won’t be able to give a definite answer.  And to fully understand my failure, I’m afraid you’ll have to plough through the details below!

I have researched this before and checked again when I read your question. I cannot find any stated requirement in the regulations stating that helpers must actually return to their country of origin between contracts. The Labour Department’s “Practical Guide for Employment of Foreign Domestic Helpers” states only that employers must pay for the cost of travel to the helper’s home. The same is stated in the sample contract on the Immigration Department’s home page.

The Immigration department will not renew a visa over and over for a helper who keeps applying for extensions of stay. Certainly an extension of stay is seldom granted ‘between contracts’. So she will have to leave. In your case though, must she return to her country of origin?

On the “Visa/Extension of Stay Application Form for Domestic Helper from Abroad” form (ID988A) one of the statements is: “I have no intention not to return to my home country after the completion or termination of Domestic Helper employment contract in Hong Kong, whichever is earlier.” This would seem to imply that helpers must return to their country of origin, but it is just a line item in an application form that is by no means filled out by all helpers. I would interpret this to mean “helper must leave Hong Kong”. After all, from a cynical perspective, the Hong Kong government does not care very much where helpers go when they leave as long as they do leave.

Although Macau is also part of the People’s Republic of China, given its legal status as an autonomous region it can – for the purpose of this discussion – be treated as a foreign country. Having said that, some helpers returning from Macau have been berated by the Immigration officer, whereas other helpers have had no problems, suggesting that perhaps Immigration officers aren’t entirely clear on the rules either! Inconsistency issues aside, helpers going to Macau typically have no problems on return as long as they have been gone for more than a day or two. The message seems to be that helpers must actually do more than obey the letter of the law; in other words, leave for more than a few days.

Confused yet? The situation is by no means clear to me. I asked our helper who has lived in Hong Kong over fifteen years (she’s been there and done that!) and she was not clear on the answers either.

My recommendation is to call the Immigration Department hotline at +852 2824 6111 and ask specifically about your case. Just for “fun”, I have actually tried this on a few occasions, and have not received consistent answers. Go figure. My point is that if you have made the call and acted on the information, you can at least honestly say that you called and checked if there are any problems later on. Sorry I can’t be more definitive!

If any readers do have definite answers or more information, I welcome comments below.

For the only guide you’ll ever need on working with a helper, check out Andreas’ fab book ‘Hiring and Managing Domestic Help’ and buy it here.

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