Hong Kong’s leader on Wednesday unveiled a new visa scheme to attract global talent, as the city seeks to stem a brain drain that is undermining its status as an international financial hub.
Chief Executive John Lee said the new Top Talent Pass program will allow those earning an annual salary of 2.5 million Hong Kong dollars ($318,472) or more and graduates of the world’s top universities to work or seek employment. opportunities in the city for two years.
Hong Kong, a former British colony handed over to Chinese control in 1997, faces myriad challenges.
The territory has semi-autonomous status and its own legal system and economy, but hundreds of thousands of residents have left the city in recent years, fueled by a crackdown on political dissent and diminished freedoms after authorities imposed a strict national security law. and by the strict COVID-19 entry restrictions in place during much of the pandemic.
In the past two years, the city’s workforce has shrunk by about 140,000 people, Lee said.
“We must be more proactive and aggressive in competing for companies and for talent,” Lee said during his inaugural policy address on Wednesday. “In addition to actively nurturing and retaining local talent, the government will proactively seek out talent from around the world.”
Lee announced a series of proposals, including tax rebates and relaxed measures to hire foreigners, to boost the city’s competitiveness after coronavirus restrictions battered the local economy and scared away professionals.
Foreign buyers of new homes can receive a partial refund of stamp duty, a tax levied on property purchases, on their first purchase of residential property when they become permanent residents.
The government will streamline processes for companies to hire foreigners in designated professions, set up a new task force to formulate recruitment strategies and provide support to newcomers, he said.
Lee’s speech largely focused on efforts to recruit foreign workers and support livelihoods to try to win public trust, said Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy.
But such measures are unlikely to boost his popularity as policies like the new visa scheme focus on attracting new foreign talent rather than retaining local talent, Choy said.
“You’re just trying to attract new blood, but you’re not trying to stop the bleeding,” he said.
Lee later said he was also committed to retaining local professionals, pointing to the city’s education efforts and grants to help workers reach their career goals.
Lee, a former security chief handpicked by Beijing to lead Hong Kong, is under pressure to reposition the city as a major commercial and financial hub, after the exodus of residents sparked fears that talent will continue to flee to rival cities like Singapore. and Dubai. His goal is to hire 35,000 skilled workers in Hong Kong every year.
The city’s population in mid-2022 was down 1.6 percent from a year earlier, falling by 113,200 residents through August, according to government statistics.
Singapore overtook Hong Kong in a ranking of global financial centers last month. In August, he announced a new visa that allows high-earning, skilled foreign talent to work for more than one employer at a time.
Despite Hong Kong’s new talent boost, Singapore still has some advantages over Hong Kong due to its location in Southeast Asia, where some economies are growing rapidly, said Simon Lee, an honorary fellow at the Asia-Pacific Business Institute of Singapore. the Chinese University of Hong Kong. .
Working in a place that relies on China could pose some “professional risks” for skilled workers as its economy slows. Skilled workers from mainland China can also treat Hong Kong as a springboard for their careers, she said.
“Those mainland talents have more destinations (to choose from),” he said.
Lee also touched on housing and national security issues in his speech.
To address the shortage of affordable housing in the world’s most expensive housing market, Lee has pledged to provide enough land to build 72,000 private residential apartments over the next five years.
He also said the government would speed up public housing development by introducing simpler designs to reduce waiting times for applicants, who currently wait an average of six years for apartments. Other measures include the introduction of a minimum size limit for new drives.
Lee said the government will “further strengthen the legal system and enforcement mechanisms to safeguard national security” as the city prepares to enact its own security law. These efforts were shelved in 2003 after fears of loss of freedoms sparked mass protests.
New laws and regulations will also be put in place to regulate crowdfunding activities and improve cybersecurity for critical infrastructure, it said.
Lee gave no sign that he plans to ease pandemic restrictions on the city.
Hong Kong will focus on actively monitoring the coronavirus rather than “lying down,” and will aim to reduce severe cases and deaths, as well as protect people at high risk from the coronavirus, among others, according to Lee.
Currently, travelers to Hong Kong no longer need to complete mandatory quarantines. but they have to do a lot of coronavirus testing daily in their first week. They are only allowed into places like restaurants and museums when they have tested negative for the coronavirus for three days in a row upon arrival.
Local authorities say current measures strike a balance between allowing easier international travel and controlling new infections. Critics say the relaxed entry measures won’t do much to boost tourism, as visitors face the hassle of COVID-19 tests and won’t be able to go out to eat or explore certain city attractions for several days.