High-rise buildings in Hong Kong. The city’s property prices dropped to a six-month low last month and transactions slumped as the threat of a recession dents buyer confidence. Image Credit: AFP

Hong Kong: The Hong Kong government on Tuesday launched an appeal against a landmark court ruling which grants thousands of foreign maids the right to seek permanent residency in the southern banking hub.

Government counsel David Pannick told the Court of Appeal the original ruling was a mistake as it restricted the authorities' ability to determine who can permanently reside in Hong Kong and who cannot.

The High Court ruling on September 30 gave Filipina domestic worker Evangeline Banao Vallejos the right to request permanent residency status, something that had been denied to foreign maids until then.

"It is our respectful submission that (this) decision was wrong as a matter of law," Pannick said at the outset of the hearing.

He said the city authorities should be given some discretionary power to decide who was eligible for residency, rejecting arguments that restrictions on maids were unconstitutional and discriminatory.

"There is no undermining of the rule of law if the legislature enjoys a certain margin of discretion," he told the court. Foreigners can apply to stay in Hong Kong after seven years of uninterrupted residency, gaining access to voting rights, benefits such as public housing and the right to live in the Chinese city without a work visa.

But that right had been denied to the city's 292,000 foreign maids, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, until Vallejos won her challenge last year.

High Court Judge Johnson Lam ruled the law unconstitutional in a decision that sharply divided opinion in the city of seven million people.

Officials warned it could open the floodgates to hundreds of thousands of residency requests from maids, some of whom have lived in the city for decades without access to residency status. A small group of people protested at the court against the extension of residency rights to domestic workers. The hearing has been scheduled to run until Thursday.