The government said it will appeal the court ruling that acknowledges the right of foreign domestic helpers to qualify for permanent residency.
The judgment was handed down on Sept 30 by the Court of First Instance.
The government also pledged to move to have the appeal heard “expeditiously”, leading some to speculate that the government will take the case directly to the Court of Final Appeal.
The government indicated it will apply for temporary relief from the ruling on Oct 26, when the judgment is expected to be implemented.
The intention is to forestall any possible surge of applications for permanent residency status, said Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee.
Before that, the Immigration Department will not process any application for right of abode submitted by foreign domestic helpers.
“At this stage, processing or approving right of abode submitted by foreign domestic helpers might involve serious disruption to many households,” said Lee, adding it is also not necessary to change the existing arrangements for employment in order to avoid disruption to the domestic arrangements of many Hong Kong families.
The swift response from the government was intended to put on hold any right of abode applications from the estimated 125,000 eligible foreign domestic helpers who have resided in Hong Kong for more than seven years.
The issue has triggered tremendous concern in the past few months after the plaintiff Vallejos Evangeline Banao sought a judicial review after her application for permanent residency was rejected.
The major concern has been centered on demands on the already overloaded social welfare system that could add to the burden on taxpayers.
The government has remained silent on other options such as applying an absolute limit on the stay of foreign domestic helpers who have not been here for more than seven years.
Justice Johnson Lam Man-hon’s major conclusion was that the provisions stated in the Immigration Ordinance have contradicted Article 24(4) of the Basic Law.
Lam cited two major submissions by David Pannick, who represented the government – first, the Basic Law, historically written on the groundwork of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, authorizes the legislature to define and clarify circumstances to exclude some particular groups of people, and that the clarifying provisions are consistent with the Basic Law; and second, foreign domestic helpers are not “ordinarily residing” in Hong Kong. Lam argued that the joint declaration assisted judgment, it was not “the finalized position of the drafters of the Basic Law”.
Lee, the secretary, said the government respects the ruling but feel “disappointed”.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang also expressed his disappointment.