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The most recent are often the most unwelcome


LEAVE FOR THREE judicial reviews on right of abode granted to Filipino migrant, or former migrant workers in Hong Kong, one of which began on August 22, has prompted extreme interest in the territory in almost every echelon of society, with government departments, political parties, trades union, employers’ groups, government ministers and people in the street all having their say.

With the bulk of media implying a decision favourable to the migrant workers would spell the end of life in Hong Kong as we know it, the approximately 300,000-strong migrant worker community, mostly made up of Indonesian and Filipino nationals, has become the butt of suspicion and even fear.

While fears that the city may be flooded by applications for permanent residency by hundreds of thousands of people may be based on presumption and not hard data, they preempt the court decision and send a message to those to whom the care of young children and aged relatives in the territory is entrusted that their welcome is based more on economic interest than human relationship.

Indonesian migrant leader, Eni Lestari, claims that public debate has moved beyond the right to apply for abode and has become a struggle for migrants to establish their right to fight against discrimination.

On 3 November 2005, barrister, Philip Ross, argued in the Court of First Instance that the exclusion phrase in the immigration ordinance, “… a person shall not be treated as ordinarily resident while employed as a domestic helper… from outside Hong Kong” is legally “irrational” and should be scrutinised by the High Court.

In granting leave for the judicial review, Michael Justice Hartman told the department’s barrister, Anderson Chow, that while the ordinance may have good reason for existing, “That, in itself, does not make it legal.” He also added that the opinion of what he termed “an ordinary person in the street” should be considered in interpreting what “ordinarily resident” means.

In rebuffing the argument that the plaintiff was aware of the bar on residency when she came to Hong Kong, Hartman noted that circumstances in people’s lives change and, in calling for a holistic view, noted, “I cannot see how an argument along these lines is doomed to fail.”

However, there was no suggestion that permanent residency be granted without proper demonstration she could support herself. However, in the event, the department made a deal; it would grant a work visa if she withdrew the application for review.

Hartman insisted that cases have to be considered individually and hinted that the blanket ban implied in the immigration ordinance could be considered more of a hindrance than a help, saying the director of immigration should have more discretion in individual cases.

Each of the three reviews, and the one referred to above, are all radically different in circumstance. But in any society, it is often the most recently arrived who are least welcome; a reflection of the problems created when a society divorces itself from the human dimension implicit in Hartman’s remarks and reduces all structured relationships to economic considerations.

In a city where vast numbers first arrived as migrants, or are descended from them, the unwillingness to embrace new arrivals may stem from the reflection they cast of those who first came in a similar manner in another era. JiM