Mar. 26 – The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal handed down a verdict in a long-running dispute over permanent residency rights in the city by denying foreign maids who have worked in the territory for more than seven years the right to abode. Yet, at the same time, it kept the door open for permanent resident status to remain for babies born to Mainland Chinese parents within the territory.
The Hong Kong government had warned that granting status to foreign maids – whose numbers reach an estimated 300,000 – in Hong Kong would stretch the city’s infrastructure. Yet other advocates suggested this indicates institutional discrimination, as no other employment sector subjects foreign workers to the same rule. Maids in Hong Kong tend to be from either the Philippines or Indonesia, with about 117,000 of them having resided in the city for more than seven years. The case had been brought by Evangeline Vallejos, a Filipino maid who has worked in Hong Kong continuously for 27 years.
Meanwhile, the Court upheld the right for Mainland Chinese babies born in Hong Kong to retain the right to permanent residency. Some 200,000 Mainland Chinese mothers have given birth to their babies in Hong Kong since 2001, also putting a strain on the city’s resources. Such permanent residency gives the children the right to invite their parents to reside in Hong Kong when they reach 18.
The social make up of Hong Kong changed relatively slowly immediately following the 1997 handover, but has been altering at a rapid pace over the past five years. Mass tour groups descend on the city, while commodities that are deemed untrustworthy (such as baby formula) or too expensive (such as cosmetics, consumer electronics, and high-end luxury brands) in Mainland China have been targeted by mainland Chinese middle men buying up Hong Kong stocks and reselling on the mainland. On occasion, this has led to shortages of consumer goods such as infant formula for Hong Kong mothers – a situation that eventually resulted in Hong Kong customs imposing a daily limit on the amount of formula that could be taken individually out of Hong Kong. The territory’s tax free status has seen it become popular with Mainland Chinese, yet empty shelves of everyday consumables has led to frustration among Hong Kong’s own citizens. As a result, many Hong Kong citizens are becoming increasingly concerned, and even angry, at the increasing flow of mainland Chinese into the territory.
When the numbers of mainland babies versus foreign maids are compared, the Hong Kong government’s position on “infrastructure stress” seems to suggest that foreign maids utilize more Hong Kong facilities than babies born to Chinese parents. Meanwhile, Hong Kong is learning how large a country China really is and that since Hong Kong is part of China, Chinese nationals have more rights than foreigners and the same rights to buy goods as local Hong Kong citizens.
The challenge facing both the Hong Kong and Beijing governments is how to avoid marginalizing the people of Hong Kong, whose own culture remains unique within the country as a whole. Hong Kong residents may wish to look at the historical treatment of other minorities in China for establishing the longer term precedents and challenges.
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