Beijing officials announced yesterday they are offering residency benefits to qualified Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan executives as a means of attracting talent to the city, in a move applauded by top mainland headhunters. Though officials did not specify the criteria for qualifying as executive talent, they announced that newly arrived managers or professionals from the three places would be able to send their children to local schools at local tuition rates and buy property at discounted prices normally enjoyed only by Beijing residents. In addition, those with a driver's licence can automatically exchange it for a Beijing licence without an examination, while those who do not have a driver's licence can qualify to sit an exam. Previously, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau residents did not qualify for a driving test in Beijing. Headhunting experts say such benefits are not really that attractive to top executives but do symbolise that Beijing officials are finally becoming more business-minded. 'This development is significant,' said Michael Bai, a principal at Korn/Ferry International (China), a US-based headhunting agency. 'This is a gesture from the government. But I doubt many such executives would care for these benefits. They come on good packages and wouldn't care to send their children to local schools anyway.' Despite this new policy, which takes effect on February 1, Beijing is far behind rival cities on the mainland in this regard. Shanghai and Shenzhen, for example, began offering residency permits to foreign talent as early as the late 1990s, and not only those from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. Both cities were able to attract and retain foreign executives, with many taking advantage of the offer to buy apartments at prices usually reserved for locals. The mainland's real estate is divided into two tiers: that developed exclusively for foreigners and that developed for locals. Though housing developed for foreigners tends to be of higher quality, local housing often sells at a fraction of the cost. Nevertheless, Mr Bai said the new policy would make it easier for him to attract executives to Beijing. 'We have a huge shortage of talent, especially in financial services, insurance, commercial banking, investment banking and fund and asset management,' said Mr Bai. 'In these areas, mainland Chinese lag behind their counterparts in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In addition, there's an oversupply of such talent, especially in Hong Kong.' Some mainland companies, either state-owned or private, are willing to pay as much as 70,000 yuan (HK$66,000) a month for qualifying talent. 'All of China needs talent,' said Mr Bai. 'We in China now realise the value of international talent.' Ellen Zhou, an independent headhunter in Beijing, said the new policy was an effort by Beijing officials to become more international in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. 'At least the government has good intentions,' Ms Zhou said. 'The government is becoming globally minded and that is a sign of progress.'