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Immigration to speed up visa processing for FDHs amid infection fears

07 August 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap
Law said the faster processing of work visas will help decongest boarding houses

The Immigration Department has undertaken to speed up the visa processing for foreign domestic helpers, amid fears of a mass infection among migrant workers housed in cramped dormitories while waiting for their employment visa.

The assurance came as a second Indonesian domestic worker who had stayed at a boarding house run by an employment agency was confirmed as a Covid-19 case today, Aug 7.

Labour Secretary Law Chi-kwong said at a joint press conference with government officials that the waiting time for the approval of an employment visa will now be considerably shorter.
“In the light of the recent development, the Immigration Department has undertaken to process contract applications for foreign domestic helpers as soon as possible. It will then minimize the time that they need to stay in these boarding facilities,” said Law.

“If we reduce the waiting time, we will also reduce the overcrowding in these facilities.”

The government’s action was in response to criticism that the reason thousands of FDHs are forced to stay in cramped boarding houses and shelters is because it takes Immigration up to three months to approve their new employment contracts.
Law says police will also step up patrols to ensure FDHs follow gathering rules 
FDHs are not allowed to work or move in with their new employers in the meantime, so they are forced to stay in cheap or free accommodations.

Going back to their home countries is also not a option for many because of the heightened travel restrictions, which also entail huge costs for them and their employers.
The problem was highlighted in the case of an Indonesian domestic worker who tested positive for Covid-19 on Aug 5, after spending 15 days shuttling through four cramped dormitories while looking for a new employer.

An investigation by health officials showed that in the course of staying in these lodging places, the helper had come into close contact with no fewer than 60 people, most of them fellow migrant workers.

The second Indonesian helper who tested positive today also stayed for two days in a cramped dormitory run by an agency, before moving into her new employer’s house on Aug 1.

The fear that the coronavirus could spread rapidly among FDHs living in such close proximity prompted the government to announce mass testing among those staying in agency shelters.
A press release issued last night said that “a free, one-off Covid-19 testing service provided by a testing agency (Prenetics Limited) will be arranged for relevant FDHs."

The announcement said the testing agency will deliver specimen bottles to FDHs staying in the agencies’ shelter, and will collect them back after one or two days for testing.
“Cases with positive results will be relayed to the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health for follow-up,” said the statement.

Starting tomorrow, the government will also distribute masks to agencies, which will be tasked with distributing them to FDHs who are staying in their boarding houses.

At the same time, Law said police will step up patrols in places frequented by FDHs to remind them about the gathering ban, which allows no more than two people to get together in public, and for them to wear masks in all public places.

He said 12 FDHs have so far been fined $2,000 each for violating the gathering restriction.

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