Others embrace the opportunity to become a domestic helper because they see it as a stepping stone. Leanessa Hieroza was recently in Hong Kong visiting her mother, Laru Cantago who is a former domestic helper who now has permanent residency in Hong Kong. Hieroza is a 26 year-old graduate of the University of the Philippines with a job working for a bank in Manila.
Although she has a job in the Philippines, she wants to become a domestic helper in Hong Kong in order to gain the experience she needs to qualify for work as a domestic helper in Canada. There, she would be able to change jobs and earn more in the future.
This shows that not all Filipino domestic workers see the right of abode as their main concern. They see Hong Kong as a workplace rather than their final destination, especially as the city is not considered a desirable place for retirement.
Hieroza’s mother, 50-year-old Laru Cantago gained Hong Kong residency after marrying a Filipino permanent resident in Hong Kong. She currently works for a trading company in Central but she says she wants to go back to the Philippines after she retires. “In Hong Kong, you can only rent a house. In the Philippines, you can own a property,” she explains. “Besides, it is after all my home.”
Including Leanessa, Cantago has three children, all born in the Philippines. Her two sons are grown-up with their own families and she does not plan to bring them here.
Those who want to apply for the right of abode mostly do so because they already have families in Hong Kong, some of them have children who were born here.
Others may want to start their own business here. Arnie R. Montines has lived in Hong Kong for 22 years. The 61 year-old says she feels integrated into Hong Kong’s society and has more friends in Hong Kong than in the Philippines. As a qualified accountant, Montines said that she might start an accounting business and employ local Chinese if she is granted the right of abode. “I will not be a burden. I will never be a burden,” she stressed.
Most Filipinos lead a simple life. “Filipinos are generally very family-oriented and sensitive, emotional people,” says the Mission for Migrant Workers’, Cynthia Tellez. She says most of her compatriots just want to make more money, be happy, and then go home.
The recent court cases over whether or not foreign domestic workers should have the right to apply for permanent residency in Hong Kong have put the territory’s Filipino community in the spotlight, particularly the domestic helpers. Some of the reactions from local Chinese have been hostile. “Discrimination in Hong Kong is very subtle. It is not on the surface but inside the bones,” says Fermi Wong, a social worker and Executive Director of Hong Kong Unison, a group working with ethnic minorities. “Hong Kong is not an international city. It is only an international money-making city.”