There are 11.5 million foreign domestic helpers working abroad. In Hong Kong there are about 380,000 domestic helpers who work for thousands of families. In fact, did you know that one out of three families has employed a foreign domestic helper? And that in Hong Kong not only the Employment Ordinance covers domestic helpers, but that there are laws which only apply to foreign domestic helpers? If you are about to hire a foreign domestic helper for the first time or have done it a while ago, you can check the frequently asked questions below.
The basics of foreign domestic helpers
In Hong Kong most foreign domestic helpers come from the Philippines and Indonesia. They often apply for domestic jobs in Hong Kong and other countries because they are unable to find well-paid jobs in their home country. In order to provide for their children, husbands, parents, siblings and relatives, they try and find employment overseas. At the same time, in Hong Kong there are few daycare facilities for children or elderly homes so families need to rely on other ways to ensure that their children and elderly are well-cared for.
Foreign domestic helpers often come from less developed countries and areas, and they may need some time to get accustomed to Hong Kong. First-time domestic helpers from the Philippines or Indonesia have to undergo special training in their home countries before they start their contract in Hong Kong. Employers should be aware that these trainings only last for a few days and that they may have to further train their domestic helper on how to use a washing machine, an oven or a vacuum cleaner.
Hong Kong laws and regulations related to foreign domestic helpers
Like any other employee, foreign domestic helpers are covered by the Labour Department’s Employment Ordinance. In addition, due to the special job nature and to avoid competition with local domestic helpers, there are special laws that only apply to foreign domestic helpers.
Criteria of hiring a foreign domestic helper in Hong Kong
Not every person who wants to hire a foreign domestic helper is able to do so. The Immigration Department will only issue a domestic helper visa if the employer is a Hong Kong resident, that is in possession of a Hong Kong ID Card, and has a monthly household income of more than HK$15,000. In case the monthly income is lower, the employer of the domestic helper will have to provide evidence that he or she has assets of at least HK$180,000. If the monthly household income suddenly becomes less than HK$15,000, the Immigration Department must be notified and the domestic helper may have to be terminated.
Working conditions and employee benefits
For example, a foreign domestic helper must live and work at the address of the employer who signed the contract. In addition, the domestic helper can only perform domestic duties for the employer who signed the contract, or family who lives at the same address. A domestic helper is also not eligible for the standard minimum wage, but instead there is a separate minimum wage set for domestic helpers. Another important difference is that employers must provide their domestic helper with free medical treatment for any injuries sustained in Hong Kong regardless of whether these were incurred at work or during the personal time. As such, we advise employers to not only take out an insurance to cover the mandatory Employee Compensation Insurance, but a more comprehensive medical insurance.
Employment agency fees
In recent years there has been increased reporting that domestic helpers in Hong Kong are victims of modern domestic slavery. NGOs and other stakeholders argue that domestic helpers are forced to pay illegal placement fees that are higher than the legal amount. The Labour Department restricts employment agencies to only charge a maximum placement fee of 10% of the first month’s contract after payment of the first month’s salary. In some instances, the domestic helper pays as much as HK$24,000 to the employment agency secure her job with an employer. If you want to ensure your domestic helper was not forced by an unethical employment agency to sign her contract with you, use HelperChoice as an alternative resource. HelperChoice does not charge domestic helpers any fees so that you can be certain that she is slavery free.
Different ways to hire a domestic helper
Hiring a domestic helper is not as easy as it sounds. After all, you are hiring someone who will take care of your children and your household. You want to make sure that you trust her and have a good feeling with her so that you can leave the house during the day to go to work or handle other things. There are two ways that you can find the right domestic helpers for your family, direct hire and through an employment agency.
Direct hire means that the employer finds a domestic helper candidate with her own resources such as friends recommendations, and only use an employment agency with for the work visa processing. In terms of autonomy, direct hire gives you more freedom to pick the worker you like. We advise all employers to find a domestic helper by themselves, and to only use an employment agency for the paperwork processing. This way you will ensure that you will find the right domestic helper in an ethical manner.
With HelperChoice you are in control of the domestic helper screening and interview. Browse through the domestic helper profiles, make a selection of candidates that meet your requirements and after initial contact you can decide on who to interview. Once you have interviewed all your candidates and decided who is the right candidate for you, you will have to fill out the standard employment contract as provided by the Hong Kong Immigration Department. In some cases, you may not be able to do the paperwork processing by yourself and may have to use an employment agency. Feel free to contact HelperChoice for more information.
Apply for a foreign domestic helper work visa
Any employer must submit a foreign domestic helper work visa application together with the signed and notarized standard employment contract to the Immigration Department. Employers should make sure they submit all necessary documents so that there is no delay in the application. It is also important to note that a domestic helper can only start her work for you on the day her visa is issued even if the date on the contract is prior to the visa issuing.
Engage with an employment agency for contract notarisation
The Hong Kong Immigration does not require domestic helpers to apply for a work visa using an employment agency. However, the consulates of some domestic helpers’ home countries only accept employment contracts submitted by an accredited employment agency for notarization.
If the domestic helper is from the Philippines and in finished contract or terminated for relocation or financial reasons, she will be able to complete the whole visa application process without using an employment agency. However, if the domestic helper is from Indonesia or she is terminated for other reasons or a break contract, an employment agency must be used to submit the application materials. This is why you have to engage with an employment agency most of the time if you are hiring a Filipino or Indonesian helper.
If you do prefer to use an employment agency, HelperChoice can recommend you an ethical one so that you can find the right domestic helper in a manner that feels right for you.
Costs of hiring a domestic helper
In Hong Kong both the employer and the domestic helper have certain rights and obligations which are outlined on the employment contract and in the Employment Ordinance. In addition, both parties make an official declaration to the Immigration Department that they will honour the conditions set by the Hong Kong government when signing and submitting the contract. Employers must pay for all the travel costs the domestic helper incurs when she travels from her home country to Hong Kong, including the flight ticket and a daily food and travelling allowance of HK$100 per day. Employers must also fix a date on which they will pay their domestic helper her salary and if applicable her food allowance. Finally, an employer must take out the Employees’ Compensation Insurance.
Reimburse your domestic helper costs of documentation
The employer is responsible for all the expenses incurred by his foreign domestic helper in the preparation of the documents such as the contract and employment visa. In most cases the domestic helper will have to pay these costs up front and employers should reimburse her upon receiving the receipts, preferably on the first day of employment. An employer may expect to pay for the mandatory insurance in the foreign domestic helper’s home country, a medical checkup, notarization fee as charged by the foreign domestic helper’s Consulate, the visa fee as charged by the Hong Kong Immigration Department and fees collected by the domestic helper’s government upon exiting their country. These fees are also mentioned in Clause 8 on the standard employment contract.
Restrictions on domestic helper job duties
A foreign domestic helper is only allowed to perform domestic duties. When filling out the employment contract, employers must provide a list of domestic duties that they want their domestic helpers to perform. This is Section 5 on the schedule of accommodation and domestic duties and includes household chores, cooking, looking after elderly persons, babysitting, child care and in case of others they must be specified. If the duties change substantially during the employment, the employer must inform the domestic helper and the Director of Immigration by submitting ID 407G. It should be noted that domestic helpers under the contract cannot perform driving duties or any non-domestic duties.
In Hong Kong a foreign domestic helper cannot work part-time. Under the employment contract, a domestic helper is allowed to only live and work at the address written on the contract. Even doing part-time duties for your next door neighbour is not allowed. In case you need someone to assist you with child care duties or cleaning on your domestic helper’s day off or when she is on leave, you must employ a local domestic helper who has a permanent HKID card.
A foreign domestic helper must reside at the employer’s address as listed on the employment contract. She cannot live in a boarding house or at a family member’s house. Even if the employer has multiple residences, the domestic helper can only work and reside at the contractual address. In case the employer moves to another address, the Hong Kong Immigration Department must be notified by submitting the completed form ID 407G. In case the new address is in a housing estate governed by the Housing Department or the Hong Kong Housing Society, the employer must provide a letter of consent from the relevant authority that a domestic helper is allowed to reside in the apartment.
The domestic helper work visa is granted on the condition that domestic helpers are not allowed to drive. However, a special arrangement can be made to allow the domestic helper to drive when this is related to his or her domestic duties. In this case, an application for special permission must be made to the Immigration Department. Please note that a domestic helper must possess a valid Hong Kong driving license at the time of application.
The more prepared you are as an employer, the better. There are a few Hong Kong government resources that you can refer to in order to avoid problems and to be aware of the latest arrangements. Check this overview provided by the Immigration Department, this detailed list of potential questions or the guide for domestic helpers and employers created by the Labour Department.
After hiring a domestic helper
There are more legal obligations for employers of domestic helpers in Hong Kong, such as the rest day arrangement, leaves your domestic helper is entitled to such as annual leaves and statutory holidays, and what you have to do when ending your domestic helper’s employment contract. In addition, you still have a long way to go to become a good employer. Find out how to manage your domestic helper so that you can keep a long-term relationship with your new hire.