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FDH numbers drop to record low since pandemic began

20 March 2022


Domestic helper does her marketing early to avoid crowds

Obstacles in coming to Hong Kong due to the Covid-19 pandemic have brought down the number of  Filipino domestic helpers by 9.06 percent to 187,002 last February, from 206,481 in February 2021, figures from the Immigration Department show.

This is the lowest number recorded since the coronavirus was first detected in Hong Kong more than two years ago. From a high of 219,728 recorded at the end of January 2020, there has now been an overall drop of 32,726 in the number of Filipino DHs in Hong Kong, or 14.89%. 

The decline was not limited to Filipinos, who had to face two flight bans and a number of airline flight suspensions during the period, as the total number of foreign domestic helpers fell by 10.4 per cent from 370,556 as of Feb. 28, 2021 to 332,184 this year.

From a high of 400,121 recorded in January 2020, the drop overall was double that for the Filipino DHs. As of the latest tally in February this year, the number fell to 332,184 or a loss of 67,937.

The Indonesian DH population slipped by 8.9 percent from 155,477 in February last year to 137,788, while the Indian ranks thinned by 16 per cent from 4,372 to 3,665. Other nationalities suffered a loss of 12 per cent from 4226 to 3729.


With similar declines in the other nationalities, the Philippines retained the number one rank among FDH-sending countries, accounting for 56.3 per cent of all FDHs in Hong Kong this year, up slightly from 55.72 per cent in 2021.

The Filipinos began the year in review with a slight bump in numbers, rising from 206,481 in February, to 207,353 in March, and 207,055 in April.

From there, however, the number went steadily downhill, a result of the first flight ban that took effect on April 20, 2021.


The Hong Kong government had initially banned for 14-days all incoming flights from the Philippines, India and Pakistan as; these countries were classified as “extremely high risk”. In addition, visitors who stayed in these countries for at least two hours in the past 21 days were not allowed to board planes bound for Hong Kong.

The two-week ban was extended, until it was lifted on Aug. 9, 2021, but only for those who had  been fully vaccinated and tested negative in RT-PCR test within 72 hours before their flights. 

But the number of Filipino DHs continued to decline at the rate of a thousand a month -- to 198,625 in August -- this time due to difficulties in booking  quarantine hotels, where they needed to spend 21 days after arrival.


On Jan 5, 2022, Hong Kong announced its second two-week ban not just from the Philippines, India and Pakistan, but also from Australia, Canada, France, Britain and the United States, in response to the fifth wave of the pandemic -- the spread of the Omicron variant.

That month saw the number of Filipinos drop at the rate of two thousand monthly, hitting 189,887 in January 22 to 187,002 in February.

The new flight ban had since been extended to April 22, although Chief Executive Carrie Lam has hinted that it may be lifted soon.

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"While the demand for migrant domestic workers remains," said Eman Villanueva, vice chairman of the Filipino Migrant Workers' Union, "Filipinos were unable to take the job because of the flight bans."

He added: "We worry most for those who have spent so much to come to Hong Kong but remain stranded in the Philippines. They are mostly buried in debts because of the placement fees and other expenses they incurred but are unable to leave the country. Many employers are backing out and are just looking for applicants who are already in Hong Kong."

FMWU's Eman Villanueva

Villanueva also sees another reason for the  drop in FDH numbers.

"The number of OFWs in Hong Kong has been steadily decreasing since late 2019 at the height of the protest movement in Hong Kong. Some OFWs decided to go home for good fearing that the situation here will worsen. Some left because their employers left Hong Kong for good," Villanueva said.


"When the pandemic started, the number of local residents losing their jobs also increased," he added.  "We also worry for those whose contracts were prematurely terminated as their employers become unemployed or decided to leave Hong Kong. 

"They are forced to go back home unprepared and most likely will remain unemployed because of the more serious economic situation in the Philippines brought about by months of lockdowns and failed pandemic response of the government," Villanueva said.

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