Hong Kong is considering an end to the rules preventing thousands of nannies from mainland China from working in the territory, because of surging demand for affordable domestic staff who can speak Mandarin Chinese.
Mandarin – spoken in economic hotspots like Beijing, Shenzhen and Singapore – is fast replacing Hong Kong's Cantonese and parents are desperate for nannies who can teach their children the language.
But the change faces strong opposition from those who have historically been worried about illegal immigration from the mainland, and have concerns about extramarital affairs.
For many years, the domestic service market in Hong Kong was dominated by Filipinos, prized for their hard work and English language skills. However, the number of Filipino helpers coming to Hong Kong has reportedly halved since eight Hong Kong tourists were killed in a botched rescue attempt after a policeman hijacked a tour bus in Manila in August .
Now Hong Kong has 140,000 Indonesian domestic helpers and 136,000 Filipinos, with the remaining 7,000 foreign nannies coming from Thailand, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
Xu Qingling, 44, became the first Hong Kong-employed domestic helper from the southern boomtown of Shenzhen, just across the border, when she was granted a two-year work permit for a job in a nursing home. "The employer will provide me with free meals and accommodation, and every benefit in accordance with Hong Kong's labour laws," Ms Xu told the China Daily.
Since Ms Xu's appointment, there has been much speculation that Hong Kong might be about to allow many more women to cross the border. The Hong Kong government's Central Policy Unit recently carried out a feasibility study but has not yet changed its policy.
While Hong Kong reverted to China in 1997, there are still stringent rules about who can come in to the territory work. But there is strong demand for a change. "Hong Kong is about 100,000 domestic helpers short of demand," Liu Zhenhui, of the Hong Kong Talent Agency, said.
On one website, a couple have posted a notice: "Chinese Nanny/au pair needed by a family with 2 children to speak Mandarin with us all, especially children, and childcare, with other light household duties."