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Hong Kong Fights Foreign Domestic Workers' Residency Ruling

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Published on Feb 21, 2012

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The migrant worker debate is heating up in Hong Kong. Both proponents and opponents are raising their voices regarding a high court decision to allow migrant workers to apply for residency in the financial hub. According to the law, anyone who lives in Hong Kong for seven years continuously is entitled to become a resident, but those opposed to the court ruling say that it will open the floodgates to immigration and cause a jump in population in one of the world's most crowded cities.

Hong Kong's government has launched an appeal against a landmark court ruling... granting thousands of foreign maids the right to seek permanent residency in the financial hub.

Last September, Vallejos Evangeline Banao, a Filipino domestic helper, won a legal battle to apply for permanent residency in Hong Kong. It's a verdict that Hong Kong residents and the government believe will open the floodgate to about 300,000 such workers to also claim the right of abode.

The High Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny foreign maids the right of residency even though many were employed on short term, two-year contracts, that are often repeatedly renewed.

Under Hong Kong's constitution, foreigners are entitled to permanent residency -- and with it, rights to voting, welfare and other services -- if they have resided here for a continuous period of seven years.

117,000 domestic helpers have been continuously working in Hong Kong for more than seven years and potentially eligible for residency based on the court's judgment.

[Eman Villanueva, Vice Chairman, Filipino Workers' Union]:
"Hong Kong claiming as an international city should, the government should be the one leading the respect for the rule of law. In upholding the rule of law. It should not be the first one to oppose any decision, specially of the highest court of the land."

Half a dozen protesters belonging to the Hong Kong Society Concern Group, supporting the government to limit who becomes a resident, chanted slogans and held banners outside the court.

[Jeff Lam, Hong Kong Social Concern Group]:
"We need to have a step by step immigration policy instead of breaking the law system and then without considering the intention of the law and explanation of the law and just based on the wordings, to allow such a great amount of immigrants. That's why we support the government in this appeals case and if the government cannot win the case, that we would like the central government to explain the law and make this system work again."

Some say that the only benefit would be job security, as domestic workers have only two weeks to remain in Hong Kong to find new work once their contract expires or is terminated.

The appeal runs until February 23 with the verdict not expected for several weeks.

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