OFWs say no plan to bring kin to Hong Kong

By Recto Mercene, BusinessMirror

Posted at Jan 24 2012 07:46 AM | Updated as of Jan 24 2012 03:46 PM

HONG KONG—For all the xenophobic hoopla raised by Hong Kong residents that foreigners, especially Filipinos, would swamp into their tiny prosperous enclave once the Right of Abode (ROA) law is approved, Filipino domestic workers here say otherwise.

An interview with several Filipino domestic help here said plans to invite members of their family to live here is far from their minds.

Some residents here said granting residency to domestic help would strain the provision of health care, education and public housing to them.

ROA refers to the HK law on the right to land in HK; to be free from any condition of stay (including a limit of stay) there; to not be deported and not to be removed.

An estimated 125,000 Filipinos work in Hong Kong, mostly as housekeepers. Many of them are college graduates and their proficiency in English prods Chinese parents to ask them to help their young wards learn a foreign language.

A surprising number of Filipinos are here as engineers, musicians, journalists, information technology experts, while some are in professional services (accounting, law, finance).

Last September, after a protracted court battle, Evangeline Banao Vallejos, a Filipino who had lived here for 25 years, finally won an appeal from the court to review the law, allowing Filipinos to eventually live permanently in Hong Kong, following years of service.

A three day hearing has been set to settle the issue with finality is scheduled to start on February 21.

The ROA landmark ruling was issued in September 2011, when Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon declared that “the exclusion of foreign domestic workers from a rule that allows foreigners to apply for the right to settle in the city after seven years of uninterrupted residency was unconstitutional.”

The news was front page headline by the South China Morning Post. The paper conducted a survey to find out how many foreigners would apply to take advantage of the law. It showed that the number of applications for verification of eligibility for a permanent identity card between October and December are, respectively,148, 334, and 149.

In November a total of 334 applications were filed, which Lee Wai-king, the vice chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, describes as an “astonishing increase in application.” These figures are preceded by about 16 applications  in August and September, in the run-up to the residency ruling.

Eni Lestari, a Filipino spokesman for the Asian Migrants coordinating body said: “A few months on, it is proven that not many of us are so excited to be Hong Kong permanent residents.”

Others said, according to the SCMP, that as many as 500,000 immigrants could flood Hong Kong if each domestic help brought in a spouse and two children, was just a scare tactic.

Mark Daly, a human-rights lawyer who represented the domestic help, said the number of applications filed in the past three months supported claims that the government’s estimates was “wildly exaggerated.” Mercy Salon, who has been in Hong Kong for 13 years, vehemently opposed living in Hong Kong.

“I have no plan to apply. This place is the sixth most polluted place in the world. They have the highest taxes in real estate. The cost of education is very high and houses are unaffordable.”

Salon, who is from Aklan, works for a British couple as a baby sitter for their 11- month-old child.

“Simple lang ang buhay ko, sa amin sariwa ang hangin at marami akong kaibigan,” she said, saying that the P22,000 monthly salary she receives is remitted for her children’s education.

“Look at some of them, they send their children to the Philippines and other foreign land to study because the cost of education here is very high,” Salon said in the vernacular. Eleanor Falcasantos, from Zamboanga, 30 years old, and has a son, whom she sends to college.

“He is taking up nursing,” she said, saying that it never crossed her mind to invite her son to come to Hong Kong and live here.

“Our life is very peaceful in the province,” she said, eating fresh seafood, unlike in her residence, where her Chinese employer has to buy food mostly from the mainland.

“I am afraid to eat chicken because they are infected with disease,” she said, pining for the simple sinigang of fresh fish that is available daily in Zamboanga market.