Asian Migrants' Coordinating Body reps stand outside of the High Court in Hong Kong on March 28, 2012.
Hong Kong maids vow to fight court ruling
02:15 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

A Filipino maid in Hong Kong has sought to obtain the right to seek permanent residency

A court ruled in her favor last year, opening the door to thousands of possible claims

But an appeal court has overturned the ruling, supporting the government

The maid's lawyer says she is likely to appeal

Hong Kong CNN  — 

The Hong Kong Court of Appeals on Wednesday overturned a historic ruling that would have allowed overseas maids to seek permanent resident status in the affluent Chinese territory.

The decision is a setback for the rights of tens of thousands of maids from countries like the Philippines and Indonesia who often spend years working in the homes of Chinese and foreigners living in Hong Kong.

One Filipino maid, Evangeline Banao Vallejos, who has been working in Hong Kong since 1986, mounted a legal challenge to a government ordinance that excluded domestic helpers from outside Hong Kong from obtaining permanent residency.

She and her lawyers argued that denying maids the possibility of seeking permanent status was unconstitutional under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which sets out the core rights of those living in the city.

The Basic Law defines permanent residents as people who have “ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years.”

In September, the Court of First Instance came down in favor of Vallejos, ruling that the provision excluding domestic helpers should be struck down.

The decision was greeted as a landmark ruling that cracked open the door to permanent residency for about 117,000 foreign maids who had been living and working in Hong Kong long enough to be eligible. A total of about 292,000 foreign domestic workers live in the territory.

But on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal’s ruling slammed the door shut again, stating that the Hong Kong legislature “has a free hand in defining, refining, elaborating and adapting” the Basic Law’s expression of “ordinarily resident,” within certain limits.

Mark Daly, a lawyer for Vallejos, said it was likely that his client would appeal the decision, taking the case to the Court of Final Appeal.

“We think the arguments are still strong on both sides regardless of which way it goes,” he said. “But the interpretation should not be in such a way that we create second class citizens.”

Maids in Hong Kong often work long hours from Monday to Saturday, and many retire each night to the cramped rooms allotted to them in their own employers’ homes.

Vallejos’s case has drawn the attention of local and international labor organizations.

CNN’s Licia Yee contributed to this report.