Hong Kong will officially be reopening its borders to foreign domestic helpers from the Philippines and Indonesia starting next week. Labor Minister Law Chi-kwong said Thursday that the reopening is part of a new scheme that will allow reentry of vaccinated helpers at a limited capacity.
The labor ministry said they will be allowing no more than 20 foreign domestic workers per day to land in Hong Kong when the new scheme begins on Monday next week. Officials said despite the need to relieve the shortage of helpers in the city, they have to approach the reopening carefully to avoid compromising existing efforts to contain the coronavirus.
All foreign domestic helpers must be able to present proof of vaccination upon entry. Indonesian workers must present vaccination certificates approved by their government along with a confirmation letter from their country's health ministry. Philippine workers only need to present a "yellow card," issued by the country's quarantine bureau.
They will also need to submit themselves to a 21-day quarantine. Officials said they have already reserved a 409-room hotel as the main quarantine facility for arriving workers. The total cost for the three-week package at the designated hotel is estimated to be around HK$16,800 or roughly HK$800 ($103) per night.
Thomas Chan, chairman of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies, said the cost is higher than expected. Prospective employers were generally expecting to pay between HK$8,000 and HK$12,000 per worker. Chan said the cost of the flights and quarantine should be shouldered by employers. Workers who are forced to pay should immediately report incidents to the city's labor department.
Officials said they will gradually be expanding the scheme to accommodate more foreign domestic helpers. However, they need to do it in a "gradual and orderly manner." They are also planning to add more designated quarantine hotels in the future.
"The whole issue is how to balance the need for families in Hong Kong to employ domestic helpers ... and to ensure that we will not allow the virus to infiltrate our community," officials said.
Before the pandemic, more than 500 workers were estimated to have entered Hong Kong each day. In the Philippines, there are an estimated 3,000 workers now awaiting deployment to Hong Kong.