Measures to assist FDHs to cope with COVID-19 pandemic extended

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Filipino Domestic Workers during their day-off, connecting with their fellow kababayan.

After months of refusal of application of employment contract for foreign domestic workers of some with valid reasons to find a new employer and who were classified as ‘job-hoppers’ by the Immigration Department, now, the Hong Kong government announced measures to assist domestic workers and employers to cope with COVID-19 pandemic were extended.

The Hong Kong government continues to employ measures against the importation of cases posed by the Omicron variant of concern with 58 cases (as of December 28) in Hong Kong. At the same time as the increase in Omicron cases, the government announced on Tuesday (December 28) that the measure to assist foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) and their employers will be extended with immediate effect. As of publishing this story, there are  95 Omicron cases in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong government announced that only FDH contracts that will expire on or before March 31, 2022, the Commissioner for Labour has given in-principle consent for extending the employment period stated in Clause 2 of the Standard Employment Contract for a maximum period of six months, on the basis that such variation is agreed upon by both the employer and the FDH.

Clause 2 (A) of the Standard Employment Foreign Domestic Helper:

‘The Helper shall be employed by the employer as a domestic helper for two years commencing on the date on which the date the Helper arrives in Hong Kong.

 It means that in Clause 2(A) of FDH Standard Employment contract, only two years of working visa is allowed on the contract. With the present announcement, in the FDH contract, after two years, which supposedly end of the working visa, the domestic workers could apply for the extension of working visa with the same employer for a maximum of 6 months (working visa would be 2.5 years).

But, the applications for further extension of those contracts which have already been extended under the previous flexibility arrangement, including that announced on September 28, 2021, will not be considered.

Other than the Extension of the validity period of existing contracts, to combat the spread of the virus, return to the place of origin of the MDWs was deferred.

Clause No. 13 of Standard Employment Contract:

Should both parties agree to enter into a new contract upon expiry of the existing contract, the Helper shall, before any such further period commences and at the expense by the employer, return to his/her place of origin for a paid/unpaid vacation of not less than seven days, unless prior approval for extension of stay in Hong Kong is given by the Director of the Immigration Department.

Whereas, under the prevailing mechanism, an FDH on a renewed contract with the same employer, or due to start a new contract with a new employer upon the expiry of an existing contract, may apply to the Immigration Department (ImmD) for deferring return to the place of origin for not more than one year after the existing contract ends, subject to the agreement of his/her current employer or new employer.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government will further extend the current flexibility arrangement. If an FDH is unable to return to his/her place of origin within the aforementioned one-year period, he/she may, upon agreement with his/her employer, apply to the ImmD for a further extension of the limit of stay until the end of his/her contract such that he/she may return to the place of origin within that period. Same as applications for contract renewal with the same employer, such applications are accepted within eight weeks before the expiry of the existing contract.

 Eman Villanueva, one of the leaders of migrant workers in Hong Kong, said that their group welcomes the Immigration Department Extension of the flexible arrangements for Migrant Domestic Workers (MDWs) for the very reason that it will lessen the inconvenience and pressure for employers and domestic workers.

However, Villanueva added, the arrangement is done to ease the burden on the part of employers whose MDWs are about to finish their contracts while their replacements are facing uncertainties. In contrast, Immigration has been unfairly punishing MDWs whom they suspect as “job hoppers”.

The group is hoping that the Immigration department will review its policy on so-called job hoppers and instead assist MDWs who are taking the brunt of the pandemic.