Hong Kong may lift its ban on domestic workers from Vietnam in a matter of months, Hanoi’s top diplomat in the city has said, in a bid to stave off a crisis of care for the local ageing population.

Hoang Chi Trung has been lobbying authorities to allow Vietnamese domestic workers to work in the city since he became Vietnam’s consul general for Hong Kong and Macau in 2014.

After meeting officials from several departments and bureaus who told him Hong Kong needed to diversify the sources of its domestic workers, the diplomat forecast that his goal could be realised in a few months to a year.

“They want to diversify the sources, not only relying on the Philippines and Indonesia. So Vietnam is possible,” Trung told the Post. “They said the population was getting older and they needed more helpers.” He said Hong Kong and Vietnam authorities had not set an official time frame.

Hong Kong is facing a domestic worker shortage as its population ages. According to government projections, the number of local residents aged 65 or older is expected to climb from 1.16 million last year to more than 2.37 million in 2036 – which would be 31.1 per cent of the city’s population by then.

As Hong Kong’s elderly population swells, fewer and fewer working-age people will be supporting more and more old people.

A possible remedy is to expand the pool of domestic workers, which currently stands at 350,000. About 180,000 are from the Philippines and the rest are mostly from Indonesia.

The Hong Kong government currently does not allow anyone from Vietnam, mainland China, Macau, Taiwan, Afghanistan, Cuba, Laos, North Korea or Nepal to work as maids in the city. Trung said he believed the ban on Vietnamese was a result of violence caused by Vietnam war-era refugees in the 1970s and 1980s.

During those years, about 250,000 Vietnamese fled to Hong Kong after the war. Riots became common. In 1995, about 200 people were injured as thousands of Vietnamese refugees rioted with police while being transferred from one camp to another in the city.

The Security Bureau earlier explained the ban was implemented after careful consideration of factors such as the immigration and security risks posed by the countries’ citizens and the social, economic and political conditions in those countries.

Cambodia was recently removed from the list, and the first group of about 1,000 maids was expected to arrive this year.

Trung said he believed that in just a few months to a year, the Hong Kong government would lift the ban for Vietnam.

In the past, it has taken months for domestic workers in the city to receive proper training after bans were lifted before they could arrive and enter the workforce.

“We can provide a bigger source of domestic workers than other countries like Cambodia. We have a big population,” Trung said.

ietnam has a population of 95 million, compared with Cambodia’s 15 million.

Trung said he wanted Vietnamese to work not just as maids but eventually as caretakers in elderly housing communities as well as be nurses and doctors.

Last month, Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung wrote in a blog post that the city needed to consider bringing in domestic workers from more countries and training them to care for the local elderly.

Trung said he had already met officials from the Labour and Welfare Bureau, Labour Department, Immigration Department and the Security Bureau about the matter.

He claimed the Immigration Department told him the government would consider easing restrictions against Vietnamese domestic workers, but the consulate had to help the authorities repatriate at least 2,000 overstayers currently in Hong Kong.

The department called on Vietnamese authorities to air public service announcements to alert the public that Hong Kong would not tolerate illegal immigrants, Trung said, of whom 600 to 700 were sent back annually from the city to the country.

The department also wanted the authorities to boost their cooperation with Hong Kong to fight human-trafficking, he added.

Trung said that in the past year the Hong Kong government had eased the process for Vietnamese to obtain visas to be students and teachers, describing the developments as “promising signs” that domestic workers could soon follow.

With local minimum wage for domestic workers at HK$4,310 per month, the diplomat said it was a reasonable amount when compared with their counterparts’ salaries across the region.

Trung believed there was no need to fix working hours, arguing workers could rest when their housework was finished.

“Vietnamese are more disciplined than other people,” he said.

The Labour Department told the Post the city’s demand for domestic workers would continue to grow because of its ageing population and a “soon-to-peak manpower supply”.

As local officials encourage hiring more domestic workers from existing source countries, it has explored new possibilities, the department said, pointing to Cambodia as an example.

“Owing to immigration and security concerns, the current arrangement does not apply to ... nationals of Vietnam,” the department said.

It added that it would start engaging Vietnam on the “details” of bringing in its domestic workers into Hong Kong after the visa restriction is relaxed.

By Phila Siu - The South China Morning Post - September 24, 2017