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Hong Kong economy

Hong Kong rolling out fast-track immigration scheme in bid to attract more IT talent amid fierce competition  

Companies at the Science Park and Cyberport will be able to hire overseas workers with employment visa process slimmed down

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2018, 6:42pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2018, 12:31am

Companies at two major Hong Kong technology parks will be able to hire IT experts from ­outside the city and have them working within four weeks under a new fast-track immigration ­initiative.

More than 700 firms at Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks in Sha Tin and Cyberport in Pok Fu Lam will benefit from the three-year pilot Technology ­Talent Admission Scheme, which starts next month. In the first year, a maximum of 1,000 people will be admitted to the city. 

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The new hires must be engaged in seven areas: biotechnology, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics, data analytics, financial technologies and material science.

Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung said he hoped the streamlined admission procedure would help the industry secure talents amid intense global competition.

“IT talent shortage is a global problem instead of a unique problem in Hong Kong. We are trying to grab hold of the so-called leader talent,” Yang said on Tuesday.

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“We are listening to different companies in the Science Park and Cyberport. They tell us that these talents are needed. So we are dependent on them to pick what is best for Hong Kong.”

The company must first submit a three-page application to the Innovation and Technology Commission and explain why the talent sought is in short supply or not readily available locally. 

It will take the commission two weeks to review the application and another two weeks for the company to apply to the Immigration Department to sponsor the employment visa.

Each successful applicant company would be given an admission quota of not more than 100 people a year and can do the applications in one go.

Currently it takes the department at least four weeks to review a working visa application. 

While supporting documents for individual visa applicants will still need to be submitted, the company will not have to hand in multiple submissions to justify the positions as the commission will have scrutinised the papers.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor stated in her policy address last year that the government was determined to boost IT development so that the city could catch up and become an international technology hub. Nurturing a talent pool was among eight key areas where the government had pledged to step up efforts. 

The local immigration authority runs five major schemes to attract talents from outside Hong Kong and approved more than 62,000 applications last year.

For the IT field, between 2013 and February this year, 1,568 applicants were approved under the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals and 427 under the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme.

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Permanent Secretary for Innovation and Technology Cheuk Wing-hing said the new initiative was based on the two schemes but with a fast-track arrangement. 

“Our scheme is much more focused. We focus on innovation and technology talents. If you look at the figures, those two schemes do not admit a large number of technology talents,” Cheuk said.

The pilot scheme is subject to review after six months to see whether it should be opened to other technology companies outside the two selected parks.

Under the scheme, the company must employ one new local full-time employee plus two local interns engaging in technology-related work for every three non-locals admitted to nurture local talent.

Brian Hui, co-founder of local start-up and mobile application “Pokeguide” which offers navigation functions to travellers in Hong Kong, Taipei and San Francisco, said he welcomed the new scheme and would consider hiring from outside the city.

“I did not actively look for foreign experts as I know the employment submissions are difficult,” Hui said, adding that the company is an incubatee of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks. 

“But the US and mainland China are the best in the navigation field. I need these talents to further develop my app as I do not only focus on local navigation. These overseas talents can help bring up the local ones.”

Hong Kong Polytechnic University professor Cao Jiannong said it had been difficult for the university to recruit IT talent as it faced many competitors.

“When a student graduates, he or she may stay in Hong Kong for a year, or two years at the max,” said Cao, director of PolyU’s new University Research Facility in Big Data Analytics.

Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks, which has a working population of 13,000, said it welcomed the scheme, adding that the city could be well positioned to seize opportunities in the field.

“The scheme also creates more job opportunities in Hong Kong. Through nurturing local talent and creating more cultural and knowledge exchanges among talent from around the world, it will help drive the growth of Hong Kong’s new economy,” its statement said.