‘Different crowd’ of mainland immigrants fill Hong Kong’s talent gap

Talent schemes draw tens of thousands of mainland professionals, including Olympic champs and movie stars

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 June, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 June, 2017, 11:22am

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa said the past decade had seen a “different crowd” of mainland immigrants filling the talent gap in Hong Kong.

Since 2003, various talent schemes have drawn tens of thousands of mainland professionals.

Meanwhile, the city continues to welcome mainlanders who move to Hong Kong to join their families, a group with relatively lower income and educational levels.

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In 2003, the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals was launched to ­allow local firms to hire mainland workers if their skills were “not readily available or in shortage locally”.

The scheme attracted nearly 80,000 people from 2007 to 2016, though many worked in Hong Kong for less than a year.

Government data showed more than half of those issued the visa in the past three years worked in arts and culture, academic research and education, or financial services.

Another 2,827 mainlanders, including some entertainment and sports stars, became Hong Kong residents in the 10 years from 2007 to 2016 under the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme.

Applicants must pass a ­points-based test: they score higher for being younger, having studied at top-ranked universities, speaking additional languages, and having family members in Hong Kong.

Applicants tally even more points for outstanding achievements, such as attaining Olympic medals or a Nobel Prize.

Renowned pianist Lang Lang was granted the first quality migrant visa in 2006, followed by movie star Zhang Ziyi and Olympic diving champion Fu Mingxia, who is also the wife of former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung.

Mainland graduates of local universities are encouraged to work in the city as they are allowed to stay the first year after graduation, with or without a job offer.

Those who have left Hong Kong can also return as long as they secure a job in the city.

A total of 57,102 such visas were granted from 2008 to 2016.

It is unclear how many of them are still living in the city or have obtained permanent residency.

Thousands of wealthy Chinese have also come through the now-suspended Capital Investment Entrant Scheme.

Although the scheme was not open to mainland residents, Chinese nationals with permanent residency in countries like Gambia or Canada qualified by investing HK$10 million in stocks, bonds or insurance.

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Officials stopped accepting new applications in 2015, saying the city had amassed abundant capital in its financial markets.

A different group of immigrants are the One-way Permit Holders. The programme, created in the 1980s, now offers a maximum of 150 entry permits daily to mainland residents who have family members in Hong Kong.

The quota is not necessarily met, but the inflow of between 30,000 and 60,000 immigrants per year has been a major spur to the city’s population growth.

Perceived to be poorer and less educated, the so-called “new immigrants” have drawn criticism, especially from a rising number of localists. Some accuse them of snapping up the city’s public resources, such as its social welfare services, housing and jobs.

Over the years, the One-way Permit Holders have actually become better skilled and more experienced in the workplace, according to government data.

Last year, about 20 per cent of immigrants above 15 years old had attained university or post-secondary education, compared with only 5 per cent in 1998. In 2016, 40 per cent of immigrants older than 15 had working experience on the mainland, while the proportion was 19 per cent in 1998.

However, this immigrant group remains relatively underprivileged. According to quarterly surveys by the Home Affairs Department, 30,079 respondents in 2016 had a median monthly household income of HK$10,700.

About 60 per cent of those polled said they faced difficulties in adapting to life in Hong Kong, with the greatest challenges lying in the living environment, work and language.