Hong Kong night skyline, Hong Kong view from Victoria Harbour. Photo: Shutterstock
As I see it
by Bhavan Jaipragas
As I see it
by Bhavan Jaipragas

Hong Kong must put Covid in the rear-view mirror and nurture local talent to outpace Singapore on the global stage

  • Hong Kong’s main objectives for attracting global talent should be about growing the domestic economy and creating good jobs for local residents
  • This week, Singapore unveiled a new five-year visa to lure global talent, consolidating its status as Asia’s pre-eminent post-Covid city
Singapore’s unveiling this week of a new five-year visa for high-earning foreign nationals has grabbed global attention, with observers saying it is the latest indication the city state is moving quickly to consolidate its status as Asia’s pre-eminent post-Covid city.

Of course, Monday’s announcement triggered a fair amount of hand wringing in Hong Kong. The consensus view is that if this city does not move fast, our Singaporean friends – as much as they insist otherwise – will be stealing our lunch.

Hong Kong’s officials know what they need to do to stay in this global hunt for talent. The first step, as commentators in this newspaper have noted, will be to abandon the “dynamic-zero” Covid-19 policy and accept living with the virus.

Those of us who want Hong Kong to succeed hope this will happen sooner rather than later.

Where to go for those fleeing Hong Kong until better times return?

Beyond that, whether in Singapore or Hong Kong, one hopes that officialdom treads carefully and takes heed of local sensitivities as they seek to attract global talent.
Of course, no one wants to be “creamed off or left behind” to borrow the words of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his annual policy speech last month.

It is important that the inflow of expatriates is sustainable.

Singapore only needs to look back a decade, when a surge in foreign workers caused strains on housing, public transport and the overall social fabric.

By the end of the 2000s, the non-resident workforce had risen 81.8 per cent to 1,113,200 from 612,200 in 2000. Public anger over immigration resulted in the ruling party losing ground in 2011’s polls. Later, the government took various measures to placate public concerns, including the introduction of the Fair Consideration Framework in 2014 requiring all employers to consider the workforce in Singapore fairly for job opportunities.

Hong Kong, Singapore’s opposite Covid-19 tactics can’t avoid similar outcomes

In Singapore and Hong Kong, authorities have previously made a big deal about various policies to nurture local talent. They have also stated this will not happen overnight.

Now, they must stay the course and ensure that those coming out of local educational institutions have pathways to the kinds of high-income jobs – in the tech space especially – that are at the centre of the current global talent hunt.

The governments in the two cities that I call home do not need this reminder, but I will make it anyway: ultimately, the main objectives for attracting global talent should be about growing the domestic economy and creating good jobs for local residents. What’s the point of creating jobs for foreigners if they do not benefit the voters who put you in power?