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FDW numbers may fall further as anti-virus moves hit employers’ pockets

09 January 2021

By Vir B. Lumicao

These Filipino workers sent off by the Consulate were among those who lost their jobs in HK

The coronavirus pandemic and urgent measures to cope with it led to a drop of more than 25,000 in Hong Kong’s foreign domestic workers’ population last year.

The full-year impact of Covid-19 is evident in the latest statistics from the Hong Kong Immigration Department.

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Last year, the city’s Filipino domestic workers population fell 12,326 - from 219,728 in January to 207,402 in December. The Indonesian helpers’ number shrunk even more, from 170,898 in January to 157,802 in December, a loss of 13,096.

The dramatic drop in the FDW population was due to a combination of factors directly related to Covid-19, as the viral contagion that began in Wuhan City in China’s Hubei Province crept to Hong Kong, before it swept across the globe.

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Hong Kong was not spared from the overall economic decline, and with businesses collapsing and revenues falling to a trickle all around, many employers were forced to terminate their helpers’ contracts.

The subsequent move to impose mandatory hotel quarantine and Covid-19 testing for travelers  further drove up the costs of hiring imported helpers, as employers were told to bear all these additional expenses.

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Many workers stranded by travel restrictions and lockdowns in both the Philippines and Indonesia also contributed to the decline, as employers were forced to abandon plans of hiring from abroad and just choose from terminated workers who were available in the city.  

A decision by the Health Department to require compulsory 21-day hotel quarantine starting Dec 25 for all arriving passengers, except those from China, would likely raise further the cost of hiring a FDW.

The mandatory 21-day quarantine forces employers to dig deeper into their pockets

Already, this could have led partly to the massive 1,275 drop last month in the number of Filipino DHs here. The decline reversed a three-month surge in their numbers, which peaked at 2,372 between August and September this year.

Things could get worse by the end of this month, as the Immigration Department served notice on Dec 30 that it would revert to its long-standing policy of giving terminated helpers only 14 days to remain in the city.

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With many FDWs still stranded abroad and the hundreds of terminated workers on visitor’s visas in the city about to be sent home, the number of those who remain here could only dwindle further.

The church-based charity, Mission for Migrant Workers, can see it coming. As of Jan. 7, or a week since the hardline policy was reimposed, three terminated helpers had already reported to them about being denied a visa extension.

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In one such letter sent to a terminated helper, the Immigration Department said: “Dear Sir/Madam, I regret to inform you that your application for an extension of stay submitted on 23-12-2020 has been refused.  Please note that you are permitted to remain in Hong Kong up to 11-01-21 and you are required to leave Hong Kong on or before this date.”

Mission case officer Esther Bangcawayan said two of the helpers were fortunate because they found new employers in the nick of time, and had submitted their signed contracts to Immigration before the rejection letters could reach them.

But she agrees the tightening of Immigration rules could only lead to further woes for migrant workers, and to more sharp declines in their numbers in the coming months.

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