Mainlanders wanted

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2002, 12:00am

It has been plain to all that Hong Kong's anti-mainland immigration policy does not make sense. Apart from being discriminatory, it prevents the SAR making use of the best brains available among our mainland brethren.

Still, Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology Henry Tang Ying-yen has run the risk of falling out of line with government policy with his call for equal immigration treatment for mainland professionals. At a time when unemployment is high, he may also be exposing himself to unwarranted criticism from unions keen to be seen protecting local jobs.

Such criticism would be short-sighted. Mr Tang is not talking about allowing in massive numbers of low-skilled labourers. He is talking about professionals whose expertise is in strong demand everywhere in the world and who have been emigrating to other immigrant-friendly countries.

Hong Kong has always been open to talent from around the world. However, unlike their overseas counterparts, mainland professionals must have lived outside China before they can apply to work here. There is no logic to the policy, as the central authorities hold firmly to their power of deciding who can come here from the mainland and the local population retains nagging fears about a huge influx of mainlanders.

Any talk of Hong Kong becoming a world-class city will remain futile if, unlike Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, it cannot draw in the best talent from its hinterland. Indeed, as living standards on the mainland rise, we should be worrying more about how to compete for talent with these cities than how to keep the supposed floodgates closed.

Moreover, fears that mainland professionals could deprive local graduates of jobs are misplaced. That kind of competition has always existed, as is evident by the large numbers of foreign lawyers, accountants and engineers. Arguably, mainland professionals are more 'menacing' than foreigners because they, like the locals, can speak Chinese. Yet, such an analysis would truly be narrow-minded.

The bottom line is this: the most vibrant economies in the world are those that open their doors widely to talent, irrespective of origin. Hong Kong has benefited from successive waves of illegal immigration from the mainland. Most of the arrivals had no professionals skills, but many carved out successful careers here through sheer hard work. Just imagine the additional dynamism that skilled professionals from the mainland could bring to Hong Kong's moribund economy.