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Justice

Hong Kong rules against foreign maids in residency case

The Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal has ruled that foreign domestic workers cannot receive permanent residency like other migrant workers. The plaintiffs said the provision amounted to ethnic discrimination.

In a document released by the Hong Kong court on Monday, judges defended their verdict in the closely followed case, saying that foreign domestic workers were "told from the outset that admission [to Hong Kong] is not for the purposes of settlement."

Foreign domestic workers are "obliged to return to the country of origin at the end of the contract."

Banao Vallejos filed the suit, along with joint plaintiff Daniel Domingo, after failing to receive permanent resident status despite having lived in Hong Kong since the mid 1980s. Migrant workers can generally apply for the citizenship - like designation - which grants them voting rights and permission to work without a visa - once they have resided and worked on the island for seven years.

Both plaintiffs originate from the Philippines. The vast majority of Hong Kong's 300,000 domestic servants, who earn a minimum wage of about $500 (390 euros) come from Southeast Asia, primarily hailing from either the Philippines or Indonesia.

The two-year court case divided opinion among residents.

The defense argued that by upholding a provision that barred domestic workers from gaining the same legal status as other foreigners amounted to ethnic discrimination.

But the court ultimately sided with the local government's argument that changing the law would put a strain on the city of the 7 million. If these workers moved their children and spouses to Hong Kong, the number of new residents could quickly swell to half a million.

Supporters of the plaintiffs protested the verdict outside of the court house on Monday, chanting "No to discrimination" and "We are not slaves."

The secretary general of the group United Filipinos in Hong Kong, Eman Villanueva, lamented the court's ruling to reporters.

"Today is a very sad day for migrant workers in Hong Kong," said Villanueva. "With the court's ruling today, it gave its judicial seal to unfair treatment and the social exclusion of foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong."

kms/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)