People walk on a footbridge in Central in August. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
Ken Chu
Ken Chu

Policy address puts Hong Kong back in the race for global talent

  • Comprehensive plans include a government-led recruitment drive, new and streamlined visa schemes and strikingly, a stamp duty refund
  • But perks are not enough. Hong Kong’s innovation, technology and related industries must also grow to complement talent attraction schemes in the long run

The global race to attract and retain talent has intensified in the last few years with the rapid development of the innovation and technology sector, which has come to be seen as a key driver of economic growth.

Many developing countries have joined this race by rolling out measures and policies to lure talent with specialised knowledge and skills in an effort to jump-start their technology sector. Hong Kong, with its mature economy, cannot afford to lose out in this global battle for talent.
Hong Kong must maintain and enhance its supply of high-end talent and experienced, knowledgeable professionals. But we face tremendous challenges in maintaining our workforce, let alone retaining skilled labour and high-calibre professionals, due to our fast-ageing society, declining birth rate and increasing migration.
Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu acknowledged that Hong Kong’s workforce has shrunk by around 140,000 over the past two years. A recent survey by Our Hong Kong Foundation, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong found that over 70 per cent of mainland hi-tech professionals admitted to Hong Kong via the Technology Talent Admission Scheme did not plan to stay beyond five years. This is a dangerous sign of Hong Kong’s attractiveness, or lack thereof, in the race to lure and retain talent.
To tackle the talent crunch head on, Lee has unveiled several new initiatives, some of which are very decisive and targeted.

For instance, he proposes setting up a special unit not only to formulate strategies to entice talent from the mainland and countries around the world, but also to offer them one-stop support services.


Breaking down Hong Kong chief executive John Lee's policy address

Breaking down Hong Kong chief executive John Lee's policy address
He has also announced the setting up of dedicated teams in Hong Kong’s 14 economic and trade offices, located in key cities around the world, to recruit talent and attract companies to Hong Kong, similar to my suggestion in these columns last month that these overseas offices launch a talent recruitment drive.

It is more effective for the government to promote Hong Kong to overseas talent directly through its established networks in different countries, as economic and trade offices have first-hand knowledge of the job market and talent pool where they are located.

The chief executive has also vowed to streamline the general employment policy and Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals, in addition to doubling the eligible length of stay for non-local graduates from Hong Kong universities to two years to give them more time to kickstart their careers.

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The latter proposal in particular is the quickest way to replenish our young workforce because these non-local graduates would have gained a fair understanding of the city during their studies here, and should be able to easily adapt to the local work environment and quickly contribute to our economy.

Moreover, young graduates from the mainland are instrumental in Hong Kong’s integration with China’s national development. They could replenish the city’s dwindling supply of young workers, some of whom had perhaps been enticed away by the British National (Overseas) visa programme introduced by the government of the United Kingdom.
Furthermore, the chief executive announced a Top Talent Pass Scheme for people whose annual salary was HK$2.5 million (US$318,500) or above in the past year and for graduates from the world’s top 100 universities with at least three years of work experience over the past five years. No quota has been set for this scheme, which offers those eligible a two-year visa to explore opportunities in Hong Kong.


Singapore reverses downward-population trend, while Hong Kong exodus continues

Singapore reverses downward-population trend, while Hong Kong exodus continues
In my view, Lee’s most striking proposal was to offer non-locals a refund on the extra stamp duty paid upon buying a home in Hong Kong after they become permanent residents.

I wholly support this because it recognises this group’s contribution to the city and lowers a major hurdle to their setting down roots here. Psychologically speaking, making the decision to own a home implies more commitment and a greater stake in the community. Hopefully, this will help our talented non-local residents feel more at home in Hong Kong and increase the chances of them staying for the long haul.

But we must not forget that enormous challenges still lie ahead in this global competition for quality human capital. Our rivals are on par or ahead of the curve in setting out measures to attracted the talented, who are highly mobile. We certainly cannot engage in cutthroat competition with our rivals by endlessly lavishing extravagant perks.

Ultimately, it comes down to whether our city can offer people opportunities to fulfil their dreams and achieve their full potential. Therefore, we must also ensure that our innovation, technology and related industries can grow quickly and robustly so that they complement our recruitment schemes in the long run.

Ken Chu is group chairman and CEO of Mission Hills Group and a national committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference