The Hong Kong Immigration Department refused 1,817 applications in the past 12 months after strengthening the assessment criteria for employment visas for domestic workers who changed employers.

Law Chi-kwong, the secretary for the labor and welfare bureau, replied to lawmaker Chiang Lai-wan at the Legislative Council on Wednesday, saying that in the past five years, the Immigration Department received about 544,000 employment visa applications from foreign domestic workers, according to a government release.

Due to the fact that a number of domestic worker applicants were suspected of job-hopping and employment agencies were suspected of colluding in the job-hopping so they could collect a fee from new employers, the immigration department stepped up scrutiny since June 2013.

Over the past five years, there were 11,077 applications scrutinized by the department with various exceptional circumstances, including premature contract termination on grounds of a transfer, migration, death or financial reasons of the former employer, or where there was evidence suggesting that the domestic workers had been abused or exploited.

Of these 11,077 cases, the immigration department refused 1,817 applications. A total of 819 applications were withdrawn by applicants and 658 applications could not be processed further.

However, the department did not keep statistics on the number of suspected “job-hopping” cases which involved adverse comments from previous employers on the performance of their workers.

When the lawmaker proposed adding a probation period or stipulating a longer or a shorter termination notice period to the Standard Employment Contract, Law said the proposals involved complicated issues.

Although the proposal may shorten the time required by employers to terminate the employment contracts of their domestic workers, workers would also have the right to terminate a contract prematurely with their employers at any time within the probation period, and the employers were still required to bear the costs related to contract termination.

Meanwhile, employers cannot dispense with the expenses for hiring a new worker even if there is a probation period.

If domestic workers are required to bear the risks of a probation period or a shorter notice period for terminating a contract, many workers may not be able to afford the costs of coming to work in Hong Kong. This would affect the desire of maids to work in Hong Kong, thereby limiting employers’ choices and even rendering them unable to employ one.