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Ask Andreas: What Does the Permanent Residency Ruling Mean for Your Helper?

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

Let’s face it, most of us mamas rely on domestic help – our helpers are often the reason we’re able to achieve so much professionally, spend quality time with our partners, have a clean and tidy home, and a happy family in general! Making sure that you and your helper have a good working relationship where both of you are satisfied and communicating openly and honestly is hugely important to make sure your life runs smoothly.

Sassy Mama is happy to introduce a new regular feature where we pick the brains of expert Andreas Rosboch, author of one of our most-recommended books: Hiring & Managing Domestic Help. It’s an absolute must-have for Hong Kong mamas and you can buy it here!

Today we’re kicking off with a very topical question for Andreas…

How will the recent legal judgment granting a domestic helper permanent residency affect my helper’s rights?

“I’m afraid there is no simple answer to the question so this will be a bit long-winded.

First things first: The ruling does not mean that helpers are granted permanent residency right now. The Judge ruled that the regulation exempting Foreign Domestic Helpers (“helpers”) from the right to seek permanent residency after seven years, as spelled out in the Basic Law (HK’s de facto constitution) is unconstitutional. The corollary of the ruling is that helpers now, very much in theory, have the same right to apply for permanent residency as any other foreigner coming to work and live in Hong Kong. About 115000 helpers have been in HK for more than seven years.

It is still too early to tell what will happen in the real world. The Immigration Department has sought a ruling to stop any residency applications by FDH until a final decision is made. More importantly, the government has indicated it will appeal to a higher court. For that matter the government itself may put in place regulations preventing helpers from staying more than six years.

There is a strong, and in my opinion unfounded, feeling among many Hong Kongers that helpers and their dependents, once granted residency, will flood Hong Kong and strain social resources. This feeling may lead to repercussions against helpers, already an underprivileged and often abused group of HK residents.

Will helpers seek residency en masse? I doubt it. Given the cost of living in Hong Kong and their salary levels, it would be a tough decision to move their families to Hong Kong, or even move into their own residence. This is a group that has come to HK to work very hard in order to support their families. The fact that these families live in The Philippines, Indonesia and other countries with a relatively low cost of living makes it possible despite the low wages. There is no way they could support their families in Hong Kong. And why would they want to live on the dole? Furthermore, becoming residents would mean being subject to HK minimum wage, an increase so large that most employers would have to let their now resident helper go. Ironically, residency could mean for a helper losing the means to support herself.

In my opinion it is a case of reaping what you sow. Hong Kongers have for decades brought in hundreds of thousands of helpers and they have treated them like second class citizens, denying them the right to apply for permanent residency. They knew what they signed up for but is it really fair to deny them what any other foreign worker has? This is not the same as not allowing foreign students to work on a student visa or similar laws in other countries. These are women (and some men) who have a job just like a banker or a lawyer. If Hong Kongers do not want helpers to be granted residency they should employ other people to do housework or they should change the rules for everyone.

Back to how this affects helper rights in the long term, that is if this ruling ends up being permanent… Giving FDH the same rights as other foreigners is a definite improvement in helper rights. That is, a helper has the right to choose to apply for permanent residency just like any other foreigner. More importantly, helpers who have residency could walk out of their job if they are mistreated without the pressure of finding a new job within two weeks on a broken contract. Those who do not have residency (yet), however, now have even more incentive to stay, and their employers would know that they will tolerate a lot in order not to get laid off. I am cynical about human nature and fear that many employers may treat their helpers badly and then fire them after six years just to make a point.

Right now, all we can do is wait and see what the final ruling turns out to be. Certainly the debate is very healthy, and has forced people to examine what they take for granted.”

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.

Do you have a question for Andreas? Email with the subject line “Ask Andreas” and we’ll make sure it gets answered on the site!

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