The time taken for contractors to get the nod to import workers will be shortened to six months under a new government initiative that has won both business and labour representatives' support.
"It now takes an average of 7.5 months to process each application. And that has not taken into account the time contractors need to get their workers here," Commissioner for Labour Donald Tong Chi-keung said after meeting Labour Advisory Board members. "In more complex cases, it can take more than 10 months. Our aim now is to finish the process in six months."
Under the initiative, the Development Bureau identified 26 jobs in the construction industry, such as bar-bending and formwork staff, which are facing a serious manpower shortage.
If contractors working on public projects want to import workers from the 26 job types, they can contact a new task force under the bureau.
The task force will then advise them on whether their applications are strong enough before tabling them to the Labour Advisory Board.
The new process will reduce the additional time the board normally takes to request more information.
Tong said the board, which comprises six employers' representatives and six workers' representatives, will continue to have the authority to approve or reject the applications.
"We are still using the current mechanism. Protecting the job opportunities of local workers is our top priority," he said.
"It is definitely not that the Development Bureau has the authority over the Labour Department on this issue."
Employers who want to import workers have to apply for permission to do so through the Supplementary Labour Scheme.
The scheme, which was launched in 1996, requires employers to show that they have been unable to fill a vacant post after at least four weeks of domestic open recruitment.
Workers imported under the labour importation scheme must be paid at least the median monthly wage of local workers in comparable jobs.
There are currently about 2,900 workers employed under the scheme.
"I don't see any problems with this initiative," Leung Chau-ting, a workers' representative of the board, said. We will continue to examine the applications very carefully and ensure that the job opportunities are protected."