The Legal Consequences of Having a Live-Out Domestic Helper in Hong Kong

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This live-out arrangement has gained favour amongst employers for many reasons. One such reason is the small-sized houses in Hong Kong, which makes it more convenient for employers for their foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) to live out than to live in. On the same note, such an arrangement is preferable among domestic helpers because it gives them more flexibility and freedom to use their time. It also creates a better division of work and personal time for domestic helpers as they are not on “constant call”.

Domestic helpers in Hong Kong are not allowed to stay out

In 2003 the Hong Kong government passed a new law that prohibits all foreign domestic helpers from living out. The government has stated that the purpose of passing this new law is to protect the foreign domestic helpers, to ensure that they will have proper accommodation given the high property value in Hong Kong.

After 1 April 2003, all Standard Employment Contracts for domestic helpers prohibit employer and domestic helper from entering into a live-out employment arrangement because the live-in requirement is part of the conditions of stay for domestic helpers.

There is one exception: if the same employer and domestic helper couple have received permission from the Immigration Department before 1 April 2003 to live out they can continue to do so. But only if they declare this and request special permission at the time of visa renewal. This group is increasingly shrinking, but the change in law has not stopped the live-out-domestic-helpers phenomenon.

Critiques of current live-in rule

Many have criticized this live-in rule for causing greater inconvenience for both the employers and domestic helpers. Working and living in the same place puts pressure on the employer-domestic helper relationship especially because Hong Kong houses are small and there is little to no private space for both parties.

The rationale behind the passing of the new law itself also does not make sense. The law claims to protect the domestic helper, but as some domestic helpers say, in fact, it makes them more vulnerable.

And if both sides, the employer and the domestic helper, prefer a live-out arrangement, should they be refrained from doing so?  Moreover, this new law has created a “cat-mouse” situation, since many employers and domestic helpers would furtively enter into a live-out arrangement.

The legal consequence of violating the live-in rule

Of course what may seem like an innocuous agreement for both the employer and domestic helper to enter into a live-out arrangement may not seem so in front of the law. Playing cat and mouse with the government would involve many offences that may lead to serious criminal sanctions.

For example, in order for employer and domestic helper to enter into a live-out arrangement, they would still need to state that they have entered into a live-in arrangement when the domestic helper applies for a working visa and when the employer applies for the application for employing a foreign domestic helper. Such a trivial lie would amount to a false representation to the Immigration Department and is an offence under the Hong Kong Immigration Ordinance. It could even lead to a (maximum) fine of HK$150,000 and imprisonment of 14 years.

In most cases, people who have entered into a live-out domestic helper arrangement either do not know the consequences of their actions, don’t think they will get caught or don’t realize how serious the consequences could be. After all, how can you imagine that it may lead to a 14-year imprisonment? Employers and domestic helpers both may consider it unfair as they believe they have entered into a fair agreement and have not done anything wrong.

What will happen to you if the domestic helper is found to stay out?

The rising popularity of live-out arrangement between employers and their domestic helpers has been of great concern for the government and has prompted an increased crackdown on live-out domestic helpers.

Sometimes the authorities conduct surprise inspections to uncover live-out arrangements. If this happens you will be charged with having made false representation to the Immigration Department. Both employer and domestic helper have to go to court and face criminal charges based on aiding and abetting a breach of conditions of stay. And it happens more often than you think, on average courts see about 2 to 3 of these cases per week.

Depending on the severity of the case, a first-time offender may only face a suspended, but don’t count on this. A fine, imprisonment, exclusion from Hong Kong and future applications to employ a domestic helper are all possible outcomes.

Make up your mind

Although it would be difficult for the government to monitor the living arrangement of domestic helpers, the police force continues to be on the look-out and the government may occasionally arrange for a crackdown. You will have to decide for yourself whether to hire a live-in foreign domestic helper or a local resident who can work as a legal live-out domestic help.

Moreover, given the gravity of the offence for a live-out arrangement, it is highly advisable for both the employers and domestic helpers to avoid a live-out arrangement. We strongly advise you to follow the regulations and discuss privacy concerns with your domestic helper.

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