HONG KONG—Over a century ago, some Western countries which had allowed Chinese in as immigrants worried about being infiltrated by the “Yellow Peril.” Today it’s the Hong Kongers who apparently view their Filipino and Indonesian servants with fears of being flooded by the “Brown Menace,” should they be given permanent residency. Society in this tight little territory of seven million is generally adamant about not granting their Southeast Asian domestics the right to become permanent residents, regardless of how many years they’ve lived in this Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China.
Foreign professionals of other nationalities who work in this former British colony automatically gain permanent residency after a stay of seven years. The maids who have been in the territory for over that period cannot claim the same right, being restricted by a rigid labor contract which is weighted against the employee. Countless cases of violations stemming from this skewed system have long been aired by
the nongovernmen organizations (NGOs) which help the migrants in cases of overwork, underpay and abuse.
In a move to deal with the injustice, Hong Kong-based Canadian lawyer Mark Daly took up the case of two Filipinas who have worked in the city for long periods. Last year he filed these at the Court of First Instance to show the treatment of domestics was inconsistent with the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution. The Court then declared that the law had indeed been breached. This heartened the Filipino community, but reaction among Hong Kongers was such that hundreds marched down the city’s main thoroughfare protesting the court ruling. The main objection to allowing the Filipinas (notorious for having large families) to settle here was seen as opening the floodgates, which the locals claimed would put a strain on social services, housing, schools, hospitals and other resources.
Former government official Bernard Chan wrote in the South China Morning Post that Hong Kong is “in danger of being flooded with the children of Filipino domestic helpers.”
This, at a time when there have also been worries about mainland mothers who keep entering the SAR to deliver their babies so as to be able to gain residency. The outcry over this has been as loud as that against allowing Filipinos to become residents.
No surveys have actually been taken to see if most of the Pinays would choose to live in the territory, whether they’d bring in dependent children and if they could afford the city’s high cost of living. One study showed that, among a total of 285 women who fulfill
the residency requirements, only 117 hope to apply for the privilege.
After Mr. Daly filed the case at the Court of Appeal, hopes were dashed on March 28 when the judge ruled that the women were imported to perform specific domestic work which did not qualify them to benefit from other professions that would allow them to become “ordinarily resident.” Mr. Daly now plans to go to the Court of Final Appeal.
For the past four decades the largest number of foreign residents in Hong Kong have been Filipinos. But now it’s Indonesian women who have taken the top slot.
The Sunday scene in downtown Hong Kong has long been a colorful feature for residents and tourists, as the women relax under the modernistic
HSBC Bank and Statue Square. But some district councilors recently engaged in hyperbole when they described the business district as “exploding” and endangering public safety because of the swarming women on the sidewalks and streets. Whipping up negative feelings towards the maids has been standard fare among some politicians.
The Security Bureau’s recent survey shows Hong Kong has 304,409 foreign maids, with 149,000 Indonesian women and 145,000 Pinays. There are 3,000 Thais, while Sri Lankans, Nepalese and Indians, mainly female, make up the rest of the 4,000.
Hong Kong, which has US$294.7 billion in foreign reserves, likes to call itself “Asia’s World City.” It is indeed a prosperous enclave in a world littered with failed economies, but its wealth has yet to translate into a kindly spirit towards those less fortunate.