While it has been reported that the Chinese government has reached a preliminary deal with Manila to open its doors to Filipino domestic workers after a thaw in bilateral relations, municipal governments throughout China still tend to restrict the hiring of foreign maids, while Beijing appears to be taking its time relaxing its rigid proscription so as to preserve job opportunities for its native maids. 

The latest clampdown occurred in Wuhan, capital of the central province of Hubei, where police and immigration officials this month busted an intermediary syndicate there that was recruiting Filipino maids to China as tourists and charging exorbitant commissions on the contracts they signed with employers. At least one Filipino was reportedly arrested.

Foreign maids are still unlikely to be granted a work visa in China except for ad hoc exemptions in such cities as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen where foreign professionals are occasionally permitted to hire maids from overseas.

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News came out this year after Chinese President Xi Jinping met with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte that Beijing would consider lifting its ban on employing foreign maids. Yet no more progress has been made so far. Photo: Xinhua

But many better-off middle-class families throughout the nation now prefer foreign helpers, particularly from the Philippines, over local nannies because of their reputation for professionalism and English proficiency.

“Hiring a Filipino means you have a competent maid for housekeeping and babysitting and also an English tutor for your kid. That’s value for money,” a manager of the Wuhan employment agency, who was also arrested in the police swoop, told the city’s Yangtze Daily.

Higher pay, around 7,000 yuan (US$1,075) per month according to the manager, is also enticing a growing number of Filipino women to venture into China and overstay their tourist visas.

To put things in perspective, the average monthly salary for a maid in Hong Kong was about HK$4,700 (US$600) last year according to government statistics. And Hong Kong pays foreign helpers more than other economies such as Singapore and Taiwan that have also legalized such hiring.

The Wuhan newspaper also reported that a prospective employer could choose from a pool of candidates who had uploaded on to WeChat  video clips about their expertise and merits. The employer then needed to pay some 30,000 yuan to the agency and pay for the maid’s visa, air travel to China and food and accommodation after a deal is made.

The only caveat would be that the maid should not be allowed to go outside on her own to avoid bumping into an inquisitive police official.

Monthly salaries would be remitted to the maid by the agency, which would also withhold her passport.

Abi, the Filipino maid arrested by Wuhan police, told the paper she had previously spent seven years working in another Chinese city, Xiamen, and she panicked every time she heard a police siren. Now she may face a fine of up to 20,000 yuan for accepting illegal employment.

An illegal foreign worker would normally be deported and denied a new visa if he or she tried to enter China again. An employer is liable to a maximum fine of 100,000 yuan.