26th March 2020 – (Hong Kong) Despite the government’s flexible new rule for the domestic helpers to extend their stay in Hong Kong as a tourist for a maximum period of one month in between employment contracts, the Immigration Department has not addressed the similar problem for foreign expatriates in Hong Kong who are switching employment during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Several foreign expatriates have lamented their dissatisfaction to us after they were required to leave Hong Kong and go to Macau for a visa run during this critical period. They had to leave Hong Kong port, take a bus via the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge before being refused entry at Macau and returned to Hong Kong again to activate their new employment visa at the Hong Kong Immigration checkpoint. Some were even stuck for a few hours as health port division officials had to make sure that they did not visit affected countries in the past 14 days despite the fact that they did not technically leave Hong Kong or step foot in Macau. However, this was before the new ban on all visitors and arrivals from Macau/Taiwan/China took effect on Tuesday. The situation has since changed again.
Macau has since Wednesday banned visitors/non-residents from mainland China, neighbouring Hong Kong and Taiwan who have travelled overseas in the previous 14 days. This new rule means that even if a foreign expatriate who is working in Hong Kong is on a visa run due to change of employment, he/she will be refused entry. To make matter worse, anyone arriving from mainland China, Macau or Taiwan will be allowed into Hong Kong but subject to quarantine orders since Tuesday midnight for a two-week-period. So, if the foreign expatriate’s employment contract happens to end during this period, he/she will be subject to a 14-day quarantine if he leaves Hong Kong to Macau and return to Hong Kong just for a visa run.
The government should perhaps apply the same extension of stay as visitor during change of employment for domestic helpers to foreign expatriates. Even after the quarantine order is lifted at the end of the 2-week-period, most of them do not want to expose themselves to the risks of infection while travelling on the coach ride between Hong Kong-Macau-Hong Kong as there have been many newly imported cases in Macau recently involving Macau residents arriving from overseas who took coaches to return to Macau.
In response to the latest development of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government announced on 21st March that applications from foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) to extend their limit of stay in Hong Kong as visitors will be flexibly considered. The Government spokesman expressed that “In view of the special circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, which might affect the arrival and departure of FDHs from/to their place of origin, the Immigration Department (ImmD) will flexibly consider applications from FDHs to extend their stay in Hong Kong as visitors for the purpose of finding a new employer in Hong Kong if their existing contract is due to expire or is terminated on or before July 31, 2020. The FDH concerned may apply to ImmD for an extension of stay as a visitor for a maximum period of one month in Hong Kong, if he/she is unable to return to his/her place of origin due to the pandemic in his/her place of origin and/or international travel restrictions arising from the pandemic. ImmD will exercise discretion depending on individual case merits under the special circumstances arising from the pandemic.”
“In addition, under the existing mechanism, an FDH on a renewed contract with the same employer, or due to start a new contract with a new employer upon the expiry of an existing contract may apply to ImmD for deferring home leave for no more than one year after the existing contract ends, subject to agreement of his/her employer or new employer. Owing to the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic, an FDH may apply to ImmD for further extension of limit of stay if he/she is unable to return to his/her place of origin for home leave within his/her extended limit of stay. ImmD will, on individual case merits, exercise discretion to grant him/her an extension to further defer the home leave for not more than six months. Arrangements should be made for the FDH to return to his/her place of origin for vacation within the extended period, and to use his/her entry visa (with a validity in line with the extension of stay granted) upon his/her return to Hong Kong for completion of the contract,” the Government spokesman continued.