Working without a permit in Hong Kong
November 29, 2014 4:06 AM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: My daughter, "Christine", a recent college graduate, age 22, U.S. citizen, is one of three young people who got a job with a language teaching business in Hong Kong. She and the two others have been working without a permit for several months and were recently detained by immigration authorities. Now out on bail, what should she do next?

Christine's employer was supposed to make all arrangements. He paid for Christine to travel to Hong Kong and she started working for him in August. In October, I learned for the first time that Christine does not have a work permit. Christine said she looked at the application prepared by the employer's administrator and it had all the wrong credentials, e.g., it said she was teaching young children, when she is actually teaching much older students. This application was rejected by the authorities.

The employer told her he'd pay her way back home if she couldn't get a work permit. The employer hired a lawyer who guaranteed he would get work permits for Christine or he would refund the employer's money. The lawyer met with Christine. Christine later found out that the lawyer did not submit any paperwork "because he fell seriously ill". At some point, Christine took a trip to Vietnam for a few days and re-entered Hong Kong to restart the 90-day clock for short-term visitors from the U.S. who don't need a visa.

The employer hired a second lawyer to do the paperwork. Before that was done, one or two days ago, Hong Kong immigration authorities found Christine and detained her. They were going to hold her for 24 hours, but the employer sent his new lawyer to bail her out. She was told she is "free to travel". Christine is still in Hong Kong, but is no longer working. She is scheduled to undergo questioning by the immigration authorities in one month's time. The other two young people who work with her are in the same boat.

What is the best course of action for Christine to take? What are the consequences of taking, or not taking, those steps? If you advise her to consult a lawyer, can you recommend anyone?
posted by Avalow to Law & Government (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Tell her to come home. Her employer will never get her paperwork in order, because it's easier for them to hire a new Christine and get four months of work out of her before she tips to the problem.
posted by Etrigan at 4:29 AM on November 29, 2014 [25 favorites]

Come home: like Etrigan says, this employer will never bother to complete the paperwork --- and why should he? He's not the one getting detained, and Christine is easily replaceable. (And has she been getting paid on time?)

About the only recourse she has, besides leaving without notice (which I think she should do, just in case this guy has any friends in strategic places.... get out, and get out now) is if she was hired through any kind of agency: let them know so hopefully they can prevent other people getting caught in this guy's mess.

And unfortunately, no I would not count on his promise to pay her way back home, sorry.
posted by easily confused at 5:28 AM on November 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Has she been to the embassy over there? That is who she should be informed by, before any interview.
posted by childofTethys at 6:01 AM on November 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Yes. She should go to the US embassy or consulate now.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:13 AM on November 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Some misinformation above. HK is not China when it comes to legal process. It's English common law. There is no US embassy (embassies are located only in national capitals) but there is a consulate. The US consulate provides a list of US law firms in HK.
This is a minor matter from the HK govt's point of view. The fact she was told she is "free to travel" is a hint they'd just like the problem to go away. However, if she does flee, it might mean she'll never again be able to visit HK. On that point at least she should consult a lawyer. The firms on the above list are all big, expensive law firms which mainly handle corporate work. But one of them probably can recommend a small local firm specializing in immigration matters.
posted by mono blanco at 6:21 AM on November 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

I went through not a too dissimilar thing in Taiwan (admittedly pretty different from HK). I was strung along by a school that didn't yet have the proper permits. I never got busted and was able to find another job with a properly accredited school. But just about everyone who gets busted without the proper work permit gets a one way ticket out of the country. But again HK and Taiwan are different.

The most the American consultate can do is help you find a local attorney.

I agree with mono blanco that she is being basically told nudge nudge wink wink to leave the country. Assuming she has no family ties to HK, this is something not worth fighting. The fact that she was busted probably means she'll possibly never be granted a work permit no matter what school in HK hires her and she could very likely not be granted another landing visa. Of course she would need a local lawyer to ascertain either way. I wouldn't get too caught up in any sort of conspiratorial thinking like easily confused mentioned (if her boss had friends in strategic places, she would have gotten the proper work permit/visa in the first place).

I'd chalk up any lost pay or deposit as a learning experience. Moreover, it should be relatively easy for her to go find another teaching job anywhere in Asia (China, Korea, etc)
posted by alidarbac at 7:44 AM on November 29, 2014

Okay, so, she has a follow-up interview in one month, but in the meantime she has explicitly been told that she is "free to travel"?

My gut instinct is that the authorities are basically giving her some friendly advice, for her sake as well as for their convenience: "Go back to the United States before you force us to take harsher action at your follow-up appointment next month." After all, every day she's in Hong Kong now is a day longer that she remains there on fraudulent terms (a tourist visa, when she came to work).

She should ask about this possibility at the embassy, ASAP.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 10:33 AM on November 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

"Free to travel" is 100% them saying "please leave as soon as possible" with a likely undertone of "and do not return".
posted by poffin boffin at 10:44 AM on November 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

I will only add that as someone who is working in a similar field here in HK: it is really really *really* not that hard or expensive for companies or schools to arrange work permits for expatriates IF they have the right qualifications and if they have done their paperwork right.

My company's HR department do this all the time without lawyers and it's amazingly simple and straightforward; I've also dealt with some of my own minor questions at Immigration Tower myself.

But well before I arrived, I needed to send copies of my degree and various other forms of proof of my education, and a criminal background check from the country where I was living, before being approved for my employment in a school.

It sounds like this very much did not happen and that your daughter's employer just got four months of work out of her.

She needs to leave HK. She'll find better-paid work and a much lower cost of living in Korea and even Taiwan. Good luck.
posted by mdonley at 4:28 PM on November 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine who lives in Hong Kong, and has taught English in a few different places in Asia, says that she should speak with the US consulate and a lawyer, but most likely leaving is the best choice. Unless she has money to spend on a Western/British lawyer, and maybe even if she does, there's not much to be gained for her, and it's very unlikely anything bad will happen to the employer.

It might be worth posting a warning about the employer online (probably after she has left HK), as it's pretty unlikely the employer will face any direct repercussions. DavesESlCafe or wherever she found the position herself might be good options here.

And lastly, said friend seconds mdonley's advice re: Taiwan or Korea being good options if she still wants to teach in Asia.
posted by nat at 5:16 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

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