Heartless ‘Rules’?

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Filipino domestic workers taking their Sunday day-off at Chater Road, Central on Nov. 21.

Frenelyn Nem and Almira Fernandez are domestic workers whose visas were refused by the Immigration Department (ImmD).They need to go back to the Philippines to apply for their new employment visa.

But the families they have back in the Philippines depend on their income: for daily food, school fee, medicines, and lots of bills. They worked very hard for their employers, doing all chores assigned to them and following all the whims of their employers.

The ImmD and Labour Department (LD), who have the power to decide on the future of the FDW, did not consider their working condition on their employers, thus in the name of their implementing “rules”, refused them to work in Hong Kong and called them “job-hopper”.

The ImmD and LD officers looking at the files of Nem and Fernandez and hundreds of other applicants that were refused were just a ‘file’ to be added to their statistic of job-hoppers. A heartless and inconsiderate decision not only for the hundreds of refused FDW but also for their families back home.

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The Frenelyn Nem and Almira Fernandez Work Condition

Frenelyn Nem terminated her employment contract after six months of working with a family of six, a couple with four small children. She said she terminated her contract because she doesn’t have enough rest and sleep. She finished working at 2:00 a.m. and started to work again at 5:20 a.m. or just a little more than 3-hours of rest a day.

Her employer also gave her a small portion of leftover food (from the children). Her employer’s also asked Nem to paint a 600-square-feet size flat that caused her to have eczema on her hands. Nem still wanted to work in Hong Kong, and she looked for another employer. When she submitted to ImmD her application for new employment, ImmD refused her application even with evidence or proof to tell her situation with her past employer.

Almira Fernandez arrived in Hong Kong in January this year and started to work in February after her 21-day quarantine. She said, that she knew she will have to take care of the mother of her employer (one who signed the contract), but she did not know that she will work at the different address where the mother lives.

She is also not aware that the mother of her employer is mentally disturbed. For her first month, Popo will call her stupid and would tell her “you die”. Several times, Popo would ask her to leave the house in the middle of the night. She was also beaten by Popo using her walking cane.

On several occasions, she panicked when Popo tried to touch her breast and wanted to be breastfed with her, saying she wanted fresh milk from Fernandez. Knowing Popo’s mental condition, Fernandez tried her best to adjust to her situation because she wanted to earn money. Until last October, when Popo hold her neck tightly, tried to choke her, and repeatedly said to her, “I will kill you”.

The Filipino worker informed her employer that she’s leaving her work the following day after the incident. Fernandez went to her agency and applied for new employment, but the ImmD refused her application even when she explained why she left her employer.

”Job-Hopping”

Recently, the Labour Department Employment Agencies Administration wrote a letter to licensed employment agencies in Hong Kong informing that the Labor Department (LD) and Immigration Department (ImmD) concerning the situation of FDWs suspected of abusing the arrangement for premature termination of contract to change employer or commonly known as “Job-hopping”.

The letter reminds all employment agencies to strictly observe the relevant laws and regulations that FDWs must leave Hong Kong upon completion of the contract or within two-week from the date of termination of their contract, whichever is earlier. Application by the FDWs for change of employer within a two-year contract period will not normally be approved unless for exceptional circumstances, and FDW must leave Hong Kong if wishes to enter into a new employment contract again.

The letter also stated that ImmD refused a total of 1332 employment visa applications made by FDWs suspected of job-hopping in the first nine months of 2021, which exceeded four times from 2020 refused cases. It said that in 2020, LD received 29 complaints involving agencies inducing FDWs to job-hop while the figures surged to 120 in the first nine months of 2021 or four times from 2020.

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Before the Two-Week Rule or New Condition of Stay of 1987

Sol Ramel arrived in Hong Kong in 1985 to work as a domestic worker. She worked with a Chinese family: a couple with two children and with grandparents. After 7-months of working with an employer, Ramel terminated her employment contract as she could not stand the working condition. She said Popo was not treating her well (also not included in the contract she signed); the food given to her is also not enough, and other more reasons.

She submitted her letter to her employer, and the following day her employer asked her to leave the house. Ramel said that during that time, the Immigration Department (ImmD) allowed the foreign domestic worker (FDW) to look for another employer within six months. She said, that six months was too long for her because she wanted to settle with a new employer as soon as she can, which took her for a few months. Ramel found new employment, and from that date, she has still been working in Hong Kong until this date for 36 years.

What is the Two-Week Rule?

The New Condition of Stay of 1987 or the Two-Week Rule, states that the migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong must find new employment, and obtain an approved work visa within two weeks of the expiration or premature termination of their employment contract. Failing that, they must leave Hong Kong.

Under the current immigration policy, migrant domestic workers cannot normally change employers except under “exceptional circumstances”, including the transfer, migration, death, or financial reasons of the former employer, or if the worker was abused or exploited.

Present Immigration Guide for Domestic Worker

Based on the Immigration quick guideline for foreign domestic workers; FDW who wish to renew their employment contracts with their existing employers shall submit fresh applications in person or by the authorized person to the FDH Section or any ImmD (except Hong Kong Island Travel Documents Issuing Office).

While the application for change of employer in the HKSAR within the 2-year contract will not normally be approved. If the Helper wishes to take up employment with a new employer in the HKSAR, the Helper must return to his/her place of origin and apply for a new visa to the Director of Immigration either by post or through his/her new employer.

Domestic Workers are required to leave Hong Kong at the end or upon the termination of their employment contracts. They are permitted to remain in Hong Kong for the remainder of the permitted limit of stay or two weeks from the date of termination of the contract, whichever is earlier. Only in exceptional circumstances, they may submit applications to Foreign Domestic Helpers Section to extend their stay in Hong Kong as a visitor by completing an application form ID 91.

Amnesty International calls on the HKSAR government to Repeal or amend the Two-Week Rule to allow migrant domestic workers a reasonable period to find new employment, incorporating the average time of 4-6 weeks to issue a new visa which is submitted to the Legislative Council’s Panel on Constitutional Affairs.

The Two-Week Rule and live-in rules were criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2013.

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