Hong Kong’s fast-track immigration scheme for tech talent gets tepid response

  • Only 150 applications received in first three months of pilot programme
  • Innovation minister Nicholas Yang says Hongkongers should not feel pessimistic about city’s ability to pull in talent
PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2018, 7:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 October, 2018, 7:51pm

A fast-track immigration scheme designed to amass talent for Hong Kong’s tech sector has received a lukewarm response, the city’s innovation minister said on Friday.

Only 150 applications have been submitted in the first three months of the pilot programme, according to Secretary for Innovation and Technology Nicholas Yang Wei-hsiung.

Officials have established a quota of 1,000 for the first year of the three-year scheme.

“We have received 150 applications and approved 123,” Yang said on a radio show.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor also admitted at a public forum last month that the response had been “not ideal”.

Yang on Friday said: “It’s probably due to economic changes, and the time needed for business owners to work out a more comprehensive [human resources] plan.

“We thought the response from the business sector would be overwhelming.”

Rolled out on June 25, the Technology Talent Admission Scheme shortened the immigration process from a few months to four weeks.

The programme was supposed to help achieve the city’s tech ambitions, which Lam has called a top priority.

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In this year’s Hong Kong budget, finance minister Paul Chan Mo-po pledged HK$500 million (US$63.78 million) for initiatives to attract talent for the tech sector.

The Innovation and Technology Commission, which oversees implementation of the immigration scheme, in June said the quota of 1,000 had been derived from “a rough estimation ... concluded from some known and some estimated demands”.

Only the 1,570 companies based at Hong Kong’s two major innovation hubs, the science park and Cyberport, are permitted to use the scheme for hiring. Eligibility depends on whether a business falls into one of seven fields, including biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

No more than 100 employees can be recruited by any one company via the scheme. Each firm must prove there is a lack of qualified candidates in the local talent pool.

Yang said Hongkongers should not feel pessimistic about the city’s ability to pull in talented individuals.

“There are other plans that are working,” he said.

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In August the government launched two more schemes to woo skilled technology workers – the Postdoctoral Hub Programme and the Reindustrialisation and Technology Training Programme.

“We have received 150 applications for the postdoctoral programme and have approved 124, granting total subsidies of HK$56 million,” Yang said.

Companies selected for that scheme can hire up to two people with a doctorate in a science, technology, engineering or maths discipline. The firms must be either government-funded or operating from the science park or Cyberport. Each employee receives a monthly allowance of HK$32,000 for up to two years.

For the reindustrialisation scheme, 54 training courses have been arranged using government subsidies. Officials are funding local firms by a ratio of 2:1 to train staff in advanced technologies. Each eligible company can receive up to HK$500,000 a year.

“We have been approving things quite fast,” Yang said.