Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong have to travel back to their home countries between their employment contracts for at least a 7-day period. If a domestic helper is terminated (i.e. being fired) or has broken her employment contract (i.e. quitting), she can remain in Hong Kong for up to two weeks after the termination or resignation, regardless of the date on her visa.
After that, according to the employment law, the domestic helper has to return to her home country before the Hong Kong Immigration Department issue a new work visa for her to work with a new employer.
Employers’ obligations for a return ticket
Even if employers have submitted a new work visa application to the Immigration Department, every foreign domestic worker has to return to her home country for a number of days before starting a new contract unless special permission has been granted. When the new employer and the domestic helper have submitted a new work visa application, it is the current employer’s responsibility to cover the cost of the domestic helper’s travel back to her home country. If the employer does not renew the contract or terminates the domestic helper, or even if the domestic helper has broken the contract (resigned), the employer is still responsible for the domestic helper’s flight ticket going back to her origin. This practice is instituted by the Labour Department due to the fear that domestic helpers may lack the means of travel and will overstay their visas for months.
Furthermore, the employer must provide a food and travelling allowance of at least HK$100 for each day that the domestic helper travels to return home. You will have to book the ticket in coordination with your domestic helper. It is better if you do it a month in advance, but you can not force her to leave Hong Kong before the end of her visa, or within 14 days of termination if the domestic helper is pre-terminated. You will need to provide your domestic helper with a means to return to her home country.
Payment in lieu of booking a flight ticket
In only one instance a domestic helper does not have to return home immediately and she can start her employment with her new employer if she has received her new visa before the expiry of the old one. This is the case of Filipino domestic helpers who are in finished contract and whose employment visa applications included a request to start their job immediately. The visa is usually that of extension of stay. In this case, the domestic helper has to return home within a period of 365 days since the new contract start date. The Labour Department still expects the previous employer to pay for the flight ticket, which can be provided for by booking an open-date ticket or through payment in lieu of a flight ticket. Many employers are unaware that they must give their domestic helper a flight ticket even if she has found a new employer and this can be considered a breach of the labour law by the Hong Kong government.
However, if you suspect that the domestic helper you terminate is part of the employment agency’s scam to profit more from agency fees (check Practices of Unethical Employment Agencies in Hong Kong”), then opt for an open-date ticket instead of payment in lieu of a ticket to stop this loophole that enables employment agencies to send their domestic helpers to Macau instead of their home countries.
How to get cheap tickets for your domestic helper
The first instinct of many employers would be to search for cheap flight tickets online on fare comparison sites. The price might be cheap, but you might not know that you can book discounted domestic worker’s tickets for your domestic helper. Indeed, several airlines offer discounts specifically for domestic workers for flights between Hong Kong and the Philippines or Indonesia. These discounts may not be listed on the airlines’ websites, so you need to call them (or a travel agent) to ask for special prices.
Evidence of payment
When you settle any of the above obligations it is important that you ask your domestic helper to sign an official document stating when you paid her, how much and what for. You can ask a family member to act as a witness so that in case of dispute, you have evidence of payment. Make sure that the domestic helper also receives a copy that is signed by both you and her. Please also be reminded that you cannot force the domestic worker to sign a forged or untrue document. Be fair and respectful even if the domestic helper has broken your trust. You can find a sample provided by the Hong Kong government on the payment settlement in case of termination of employment on page 39 of this practical guide.