Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hong Kong divided on Permanent Residency for Domestic Helpers

If you live in Hong Kong you know the hot political topic de jour is the debate on whether Permanent Residency and Right of Abode should be extended to imported domestic helpers.  Although the Hong Kong Constitution (The Basic Law) dictates in Article 24 that Permanent Residence can be obtained
"by Persons not of Chinese nationality who have entered Hong Kong with valid travel documents, have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years and have taken Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region"
policy rules have denied foreign domestic helpers ( primarily from Indonesia and the Philippines) who come on said contract from obtaining Permanent Residency status after the obligatory 7 years.

However, then comes along little Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a Filipino who has been serving as a domestic helper in Hong Kong for the last 25 years, (or for history geeks, since Sir Edward Youde was Governor)  and says she'd like to apply for Permanent Residency.


Now advocacy groups are lining up on both side of the argument.  Supporters say that if these women toil away for years of cleaning our houses, walking our dogs, and raising our children why shouldn't they be rewarded with the right to stay like any other people group.

Detractors such as Joseph Law who heads up an association for the employers of domestic helpers says, "Almost all our members are against granting abode rights to foreign domestic helpers Our government does not have enough medical, educational, housing and social welfare resources for domestic helper immigrants and Hong Kong people."

Such arguments are worth considering since estimates suggest that about 100,000 domestic helpers would be eligible to apply for Permanent Residency and if they all brought family members with them the total could be as much as 400,000.  Whether such a large amount could actually emigrate to the city is highly doubtful however given the high cost of living in Hong Kong. 

But one may also wonder whether racism plays any part in people's thoughts on the subject.  I think its important to remember that in many countries and at various times the Chinese have occupied a similar "outsider" position seeking to gain recognition and acceptance for hard work in a new land.

Consider that between 1950 and 1970 more than 2,000,000 Mainland Chinese refugees came to Hong Kong under the British government's very liberal "Touch Base" policy.  Essentially any Mainland Chinese that could make it to Immigration Tower and register became a resident of Hong Kong.  The Hong Kong Government was hardly prepared at that time to absorb such a large amount of people...and yet they did and Hong Kong is the better for it.

At one time in America we had the Chinese Exclusion Act which ended the ability of Chinese to immigrate to United States.  Americans were quite happy to have Chinese build rairoads, work the mines, and do other jobs they didn't want to do...but allow them to become Americans?  Never! 
Now that horrible episode in American history is cosigned to the waste bin of history and even this week the very first Chinese American, Gary Locke, assumes the role of U.S. ambassador to China.  A fitting nail in the coffin of that hateful policy.

In 1996 Australian Member of Parliment, Pauline Hanson began complaining about the large amount of Chinese immigration to Australia and claimed her country was being "swamped by Asians".  The Hong Kong community (and the International community) was rightfully indignant and the government was even considering deterring Hong Kong University students from applying to universities there if that was their attitude. I remember Hong Kong Chinese friends that were furious at the political accusations directed at them by the "land down under".  Cooler heads prevailed ultimately but do certain members of the Hong Kong community really want to parrot Pauline Hanson and use scaremongering tactics suggesting that Hong Kong would be overrun with Filipinos and Indonesians?

I think Hong Kong has a right to determine for itself who becomes a Hong Konger...and who doesn't. But its a debate that should be decided by Hong Kong people and ruled by through their courts.  For that reason I would disagree with people like Rita Fan Hsu Lai-Tai and Elsie Leung Oi-sie who have suggested bypassing the Hong Kong Courts and going straight to Beijing for a ruling.  (People like them don't like to use the courts unless they know what the ruling will be in advance).  To do so would seriously undermine Hong Kong autonomy.

Part of living under the Rule of Law is sometimes its messy.  Under the Law people become equal...and thats a very scary proposition for many.


Paul Ellis said...

Hi Steve,
I hadn't heard about this one. Here's a question and a prediction. Have there been any polls taken among HK residents regarding the possibility of changing the law to admit domestic helpers? My guess is that locals would be 85% opposed to the idea. And my prediction: If 100,000 domestic helpers are granted residency, then somehow their 300,000 family members will find a way to join them in HK. Never mind the cost - HK is the land of opportunity and who wants to be separated from their kids? I can't think of any other country where the pattern has been different.

Steve H. said...

Good point Paul, the domestics would probably rent a place with one or two other families and put multiple amounts in a flat not unlike immigrants in the States and other countries do. And although I don't know about the 85% figure, ALOT of people are opposed...but when have foreign immigrants ever been popular in history?

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