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HK does not want more FDHs to come during pandemic, says labor chief

27 June 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap
Law says HK is limiting the number of migrant workers entering HK during the pandemic

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Law Chi-kwong, has said the government wants to restrict the entry of foreign domestic workers into Hong Kong in the time of the pandemic.

Law made the statement in response to questions from reporters as to why the government does not want to provide quarantine facilities for FDWs arriving in Hong Kong, or help employers pay for the cost of an alternative place for them to stay.

“I can say that we really want to help, but any way which would encourage directly or indirectly the movement of domestic helpers from Hong Kong to their homeland or from their homeland back to Hong Kong is not consistent with our policy to restrict such movement to reduce the risk of spread of the virus,” said Law.
His statement doused the hopes of about 10,000 Filipino migrant workers who have been on standby in the Philippines for months, hoping for a signal that the Hong Kong government would help ease their re-entry into the city.

The biggest hindrance is the high cost of the 14-day quarantine that they would be required to undergo on their arrival in Hong Kong.

Many employers balk at allowing them to spend the quarantine in their tiny homes, but are unwilling to pay for the cost of alternative accommodation and food during the quarantine. Estimates of a hotel quarantine, without the food, range between $4,000 and $8,000.
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Employment agencies have urged the government to set up a centralized quarantine facility for all incoming FDHs, while New Party legislator Eunice Yung has asked for subsidy to be extended to employers who put up their maids in hotels.

It now appears the government is not keen to adopt either option because it does not want the usual number of FDWs to enter Hong Kong while it is still dealing with the coronavirus contagion.
Law said that what the government has done so far, in fact, is to minimize the entry of FDWs into the city. This was the reason it has allowed those who are already in Hong Kong to extend their contracts, those who have finished their contracts to find new a new employer without leaving the city, or extend the visa of those who are in-between contracts.

“These are the policy strategies that try to restrict the movement of domestic helpers from Hong Kong to and from their homeland,” he added. “Any other measures, although we would like to help, if that would encourage such movement, that would be inconsistent with our anti-epidemic measures.

Instead, he said employers should consider helping FDWs who are already in Hong Kong to continue to stay by extending their contract. Employment agencies could also help by securing new employment for those who have completed their previous contract.
But it would appear the more relaxed visa policy does not extend to those who have been terminated or have broken their contracts, except those who fall under exceptional circumstances, like if the reason is due to the employer’s relocation, or financial difficulty.

Those who are terminated for other reasons will be allowed to extend their stay while looking for new employment, but will still have to return home and wait for their new visa there.

Secretary Law and Congen Tejada in a meeting last February

This was despite an appeal made by Consul General Raly Tejada last Wednesday, June 24, for the more relaxed visa policy to extend to all whose contracts have been prematurely cut for whatever reason.

According to Congen Tejada, Immigration only assured him that those who finished their contracts and have changed employers will be allowed to stay and take up their new employment.

“What they said it that they will consider requests by employees who have finished their contracts and transferring to new employers to remain in Hong Kong on a ‘case to case basis,”, said Congen Tejada.

“It is imperative that they present themselves to Immigration accompanied by their new employers so that they may present their case. I believe the commitment of the employer to take responsibility will be crucial here as determined by immigration officials.”

Congen said he realized the commitment does not differ much from the existing policy, but said it was “better than nothing.” He also pledged to continue discussing with Immigration further on the issue, as these are “unprecedented times.”

During his interview, Law said that during normal times, around 500 FDWs come into Hong Kong on a daily basis. But because of the entry restrictions taken by the government, the number of Filipino DHs who have entered Hong Kong in the past month had been reduced to only 1,7000.

He added: “But if we provide such facilitation that directly or indirectly encourages them to come, that number will jump up very quickly. Every day we will have about two to three flights from Manila. We would expect 500 of them every day. Within 14 days, we would have 7,000. That is a very large number. We would not have sufficient quarantine facilities to house this group of people just from the Philippines. This is the concern. The primary consideration is our anti-epidemic strategies to help or protect our citizens in Hong Kong.”

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