Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor

The Two-Week Rule

The two-week rule which regulates the conditions of stay of domestic helpers in Hong Kong was introduced in April 1987. Briefly, it is to the effect that a foreign domestic helper permitted to live and work in Hong Kong will not, normally, be permitted to remain in Hong Kong to take up a new employment if her last employment has been terminated, but will be required to return to her place of origin on or before the expiry of two weeks after the date of termination. There are exceptions to the rule. These are cases where a foreign domestic helper has been unfairly treated or where an employer is unable to continue with the contract because of financial difficulties, emigration, transfer abroad or death. See reply of the Secretary for Education and Manpower in Legislative Council on 20 May 1992 (Question No. 10).

It is relevant to recall that at the time the rule was introduced, the Secretary for Security indicated that the purpose of its introduction was the prevention of "job-hopping" by foreign domestic helpers. That same purpose was confirmed as recently as 30 May 1994 by Legco Paper No. 3150/93-94 bearing that date.

The expression "job-hopping" implies that the helper terminates her employment prematurely (or alternatively the helper deliberately behaves so badly that the employer has no choice but to do so) with a view to obtaining employment with a new employer. No other interpretation is possible.

The rule, formulated as shown above, extends further than its stated purpose. It is frequently applied by the Immigration Department so as to prevent approval of new employment in cases where, by no stretch of the imagination, can job-hopping have been present.

In recent months, letters written in the name of the Director of Immigration to foreign domestic helpers seeking approval of new employment after termination of a former employment have increasingly referred to "policy" as a ground for refusal of such approval, as if the rule, formulated as shown above, were the policy. That seems wrong. The rule is a misconceived formula for application of the policy. The policy is the prevention of job-hopping by helpers.

The rule is in urgent need of amendment, so that it may reflect the policy, which is not now the case. It is possible to infer, from the way the rule was formulated, that the intention was to state that a foreign domestic helper permitted to live and work in Hong Kong will not, normally, be permitted to remain in Hong Kong to take up a new employment if her last employment has been terminated "by her", but by inadvertence those last two crucial words were omitted. The desirable amendment would be a simple addition of those two words. Of course that would not deal with the case where the helper deliberately behaves so badly that the employer has no choice but to terminate the employment, but that kind of case (which possibly had not been contemplated by whoever drafted the rule) could be dealt with by equally simple additional wording.

The public interest would be well served by appropriate amendment. In the first place, the position would be clarified which would be beneficial to employers, helpers, and Immigration Department staff. Secondly, time spent by Immigration Department staff would be saved, and government expenditure thus reduced. Thirdly, helpers would incur lower loss of earnings through delays in approval of new employment. (Those delays are currently running at two months or more for no good reason.) Fourthly, the new employers would be saved the worry and uncertainty, as well as the same delays, over getting a new helper. It ought to be borne in mind that the object of allowing foreign domestic helpers to work in Hong Kong in the first place was to assist Hong Kong families who would otherwise have no domestic help, and that the delays and uncertainties now current militate against the economic interests of intending new employers in urgent need of a new helper.

The clarification and amendment sought would also go a long way towards reducing the exploitation of helpers by the small minority of employers who use the "policy" to bludgeon them into uncomplaining acceptance of the employers' improper conduct. Much can be written on the subject of such exploitation, but this would become less necessary if the clarification and amendment were made.

United Migrant Workers


1996/1997 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor