Foreign domestic helpers: handy know-how helper employment list

There are 11.5 million foreign domestic helpers working abroad. In HK there are about 340,000 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 HK 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 domestic helper for the first time or have done it a while ago, you can check the frequently asked questions below.

What should I know about foreign domestic helpers?

In HK most foreign domestic helpers come from the Philippines and Indonesia. They often apply for domestic jobs in HK 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 HK 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 HK. First-time domestic helpers have to undergo a special helper training in their home countries before they start their contract in HK. Employers should be aware that these trainings only last for a few days and that they may have to further train their helper on how to use a washing machine, an oven or a vacuum cleaner.

Who is eligible to hire a domestic helper?

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 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 helper may have to be terminated.

What are laws on 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. 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 HK 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.

What is modern domestic slavery?

In recent years there has been increased reporting that domestic helpers in HK 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 secure her job with an employer. If you want to ensure your helper was not forced 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.

How 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. With HelperChoice you are in control of hiring the right helper. Browse through the 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 HK Immigration Department. In some cases, you may not be able to do the paperwork processing by yourself and may have to use an agency. Feel free to contact HelperChoice for more information.

How to apply for a helper visa?

Any employer must submit a visa application together with the signed and notarized employment contract to the Immigration Department. If the domestic helper is from the Philippines and in finished contract, the employer will be able to do this him or herself. However, if the 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. 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.

Do I have to use an employment agency?

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 helper in an ethical manner. In case you are hiring a Filipino domestic helper and she is in finished contract or terminated for relocation or financial reasons, you will also be able to handle all the paperwork by yourself. If you do prefer to use an employment agency, HelperChoice can recommend you an ethical one so that you can find the right helper in a manner that feels right for you.

What expenses should I reimburse to my helper?

The employer is responsible for all the expenses incurred by his foreign helper in the preparation of the documents such as the contract and employment visa. In most cases the 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 helper’s home country, a medical checkup, notarization fee as charged by the foreign helper’s Consulate, the visa fee as charged by the HK Immigration Department and fees collected by the helper’s government upon exiting their country. These fees are also mentioned in Clause 8 on the standard employment contract.

What are my rights and obligations as an employer?

In HK 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 HK government when signing and submitting the contract. Employers must pay for all the travel costs the helper incurs when she travels from her home country to HK, 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 helper her wages and if applicable her food allowance. A weekly rest day must also be appointed which is at least 24 hours. Finally, an employer must take out the Employees’ Compensation Insurance.

What duties can my helper carry out?

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 helpers to perform. This is Section 5 on the schedule of accommodation and domestic duties and includes household chores, cooking, looking after elderly persons, baby-sitting, child care and in case of others they must be specified. If the duties change substantially during the employment, the employer must inform the 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.

Can a helper work part-time?

No. In HK a foreign 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 helper’s day off or when she is on leave, you must employ a local domestic helper who has a permanent HKID card.

Can a helper live out?

No. A foreign 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 HK 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.

Can my helper perform driving duties?

No. The 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.

How does leave for domestic helpers work?

A domestic helper is entitled to at least one rest day for every period of seven days. This rest day should be for at least 24 consecutive hours. An employer cannot pay their helper to work on her rest day, but in case of an emergency she may work, provided that you will substitute her with another rest day within 30 days before or after the original day off. Foreign helpers are also entitled to days off on statutory holidays, which should be paid after the first three months of the contract, and annual leave. Finally, if an employer renews the employment contract with his or her helper, the helper is entitled to vacation leave which is either paid or unpaid depending on what was selected under Clause 13 of the employment contract.

How to terminate the helper’s contract?

Both the employer and the helper can terminate the contract at any time. Either party must give at least one month’s notice in writing or pay wages in lieu of notice. The employer must pay the helper all the outstanding wages, any untaken annual leave at pro rata, if necessary the long service payment or severance payment and either a flight ticket or cash in lieu of a travel ticket and the food and travelling allowance. Prepare an official document for your helper to sign in the presence of a witness that she has received the outstanding termination payments. In some cases, it is possible to terminate the helper without notice, but it is advised that you have strong evidence in order to back you up in case of a claim. Finally, the employer and domestic helper must notify the Immigration Department of premature termination by submitting ID 407E within 7 days of the date of termination. It is not necessary to inform the Labour Department.

Where can I find more information?

The more prepared you are as an employer, the better. There are a few HK 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.