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Announcing a new work-permit policy is one thing, whether it will convince our youth to ‘go north’ is another matter

Lifting restrictions and making it easier for young Hongkongers to get jobs on the mainland does not necessarily mean an exodus will follow as competition will be stiffer across the border

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 August, 2018, 1:53pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 August, 2018, 8:53pm

It has become something of a cliché and is sometimes even seen as demoralising when we urge our young people to try their luck across the border for career prospects, because housing is so unaffordable and opportunities are limited in this city.

Over the years, this “go north” rhetoric touted by different administrations has also triggered political controversies, given the anti-mainland sentiment here.

From a practical point of view, restrictions on Hongkongers seeking to work on the mainland posed a major hurdle. That, ironically, is the reality under the “one country, two systems” policy.

Mainlanders need to apply for working visas when they accept job offers in Hong Kong, while employers are required to justify why they are not filling vacancies with local candidates. So, it is only fair that mainland authorities impose reciprocal conditions as they also need to address the sentiments of their own people.

And things can get more complicated if a Hongkonger wants to go job-hopping from one city to another. This can mean a new round of job applications through different departments in the next city, even if the applicant already possesses a work permit.

All this is going to become yesterday’s problem, now that Beijing is scrapping the work-permit restrictions.

The new policy offers Hongkongers easier access to mainland employers, as well as more opportunities in different cities. It also applies to residents of Macau and Taiwan.

However, don’t expect Friday’s announcement to spark an exodus of young jobseekers to the mainland. The fact is, there is still an obvious lack of enthusiasm for the “go north” drive, especially among our youth, because of many practical issues such as leaving their home comfort zone, tax and pension matters, and medical service gaps.

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The new policy, stemming from President Xi Jinping’s instructions when he visited the city last year, has a much longer-term implication – how Hong Kong’s next generation is to integrate with the mainland while maintaining the city’s unique features. Can abolishing work-permit requirements resolve everything?

The answer is not a simple “yes” or “no”.

It is therefore interesting to note that hours before the new measure was officially announced, a group of young, Beijing-based Hong Kong entrepreneurs had a surprise visit from Zhang Xiaoming, director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

On that scorching Friday afternoon, Zhang headed to Zhongguancun in northwest Beijing, an area dubbed one of China’s major innovation hubs as it houses a number of the country’s top tertiary institutions such as Tsinghua University and Peking University.

Many Hongkongers may not know there is also a Beijing-Hong Kong-Macau Youth Innovation Centre there, serving as an incubator for start-ups by young people from the three cities.

The young entrepreneurs shared with Zhang their views and experiences of working in the capital, good and bad.

Zhang must know all too well that the announcement of a policy is one thing – whether it will be properly implemented and well-received is quite another.

But, to be honest, this pioneering group’s experience cannot be the only reference: while many see them as trailblazers, the fact remains they are also in a protected environment in this particular centre specially designed for Hong Kong and Macau youth with strong government support.

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While their feedback can be useful reference material for policymakers, their experiences alone cannot reflect the full picture of the mainland’s job market.

After all, Hongkongers who want to venture into the mainland must face the reality: permit-free access is only one convenience – not a guarantee of success when they have to face a much bigger crowd of competitors across the border.