Fast-track visas the way to attract talent

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2011, 12:00am


Decisive thinking, flexibility and being able to respond quickly to an opportunity are essential elements of a successful business. Our government is not famed for such an approach with its policymaking, despite Hong Kong's position as an international financial centre. It has risen to the challenge with Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, though, fast-tracking visas for fleeing company executives and other professionals. This is not an attempt to profit from the misery of a neighbour, but whatever can be done to attract talent is worthwhile and has to be considered.

The Immigration Department usually takes six to eight weeks to process visas for foreigners. It has shown what is possible as a result of Japan's tragedy, issuing permits for work, investment, study and dependants in just two days since March 17 to hundreds of people. An assistant director of immigration was appointed to speed up the process. If these steps had not been taken, a chance would have slipped us by and the professionals would have gone elsewhere.

We are likely to benefit enormously from their presence. Their talent will help drive our economy forward. We can learn from them. They and their families will provide business for our schools, restaurants and shops.

Even after the fear of radiation has subsided in Japan and business there returns to normal, there is a chance that they will stay here. Every effort has to be made to make them feel welcome. That means finding places in schools for their children and treating them fairly. The immigration red tape that was so easily amended for them has to be kept to a minimum.

Hong Kong has waited for a crisis in a nearby country to change its stance on issuing visas. We should not have had to wait for a disaster for this to happen. At all times, we should have an immigration policy that is as open and flexible as possible towards talented people. Their presence will help our city grow, prosper and thrive. We have to ensure our city is a welcoming and attractive place for them to live, work, do business and study.