Hot Topics: Hong Kong’s plan to hire mainland Chinese care workers struggles amid local outbreak, lockdowns across border

  • The city’s care homes urgently need more staff to care for elderly and disabled residents, as many employees have either caught Covid-19 or have been quarantined
  • But the government’s scheme to recruit workers from the mainland has faced difficulties in attracting candidates and dealing with lockdown-related delays
Doris Wai |

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Elderly care homes in Hong Kong have been struggling to operate as many workers and residents are infected with Covid-19. Photo: Edmond So

Hot Topics takes an issue that’s being discussed in the news and allows you to compare different articles and viewpoints on the subject. Our questions encourage you to examine the topic in-depth and can be used on your own or with a friend.

Context: Hong Kong to bring in 1,000 temporary workers from mainland China

On March 1, the Social Welfare Department announced it planned to hire 1,000 staff from the mainland to work for three months caring for elderly residents, people with disabilities and other potential or confirmed cases.

On the same day, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong Law told a radio programme there were no special criteria for recruiting the temporary contract carers, meaning people without experience could apply.

“[The only criteria] is that they must be Cantonese speakers. Local workers are also welcome,” he said. “We need to provide three days of basic training for them as most do not have relevant experience.”

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He said some care homes had seen almost all their staff and residents infected. About half of local care home staff had been unable to work, including many who had contracted Covid-19 or were placed in quarantine.

F.E.L.C. (Hong Kong) Co Limited is an employment agency helping to recruit workers from the mainland. The person in charge of the agency said the process had been slow at first as Hong Kong had reported a surge in cases.

But the supervisor, who asked not to be identified, said the situation had gradually improved as the number of daily infections had declined.

In mid-March, he said the company had brought over more than 100 workers in batches. He said that many had performed similar roles on the mainland or in Hong Kong.

Some of the staff from mainland medical units arrive at AsiaWorld-Expo to assist in the treatment of coronavirus patients there. Photo: Jelly Tse

The agency’s screening criteria required candidates to be under 60 years old, fluent in Cantonese, fully vaccinated for at least 14 days and healthy, he said, with a preference for applicants with experience as care workers.

The agency said the monthly salary of HK$31,000 was attractive, as it was higher than the HK$14,000 that mainland carers received on average in Hong Kong.

Separately, a requirement that mandates employers spend four weeks looking for a local hire has been temporarily waived until the end of May, giving care homes flexibility to import workers.

As of March 21, about 500 medical staff from the mainland had started working at the AsiaWorld-Expo coronavirus treatment facility after becoming accustomed to the local systems and procedures.
Staff writers

Question prompts:

  • Based on Context, identify TWO reasons the Hong Kong government is hiring temporary care workers from mainland China.

  • For candidates from the mainland, what is ONE benefit of coming to work in Hong Kong under the scheme mentioned in Context? What is ONE downside?

  • Identify THREE criteria that the employment agency mentioned in Context requires when hiring care workers to bring to Hong Kong. Explain why those criteria are important.

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News: ‘Huge headache’ for Hong Kong care homes as Covid-19 lockdowns across border delay arrival of mainland workers

Covid-19 lockdowns in mainland China delayed the arrival of hundreds of care workers from across the border urgently needed to look after Hong Kong’s infected elderly and disabled residents.

In mid-March, operators of the city’s care homes for the elderly said the delay had affected the sector, which at the time, lacked about 5,000 to 6,000 carers, after thousands of staff were infected or quarantined.

“The outbreaks on the mainland have hindered these care workers from coming to Hong Kong to work,” said Kenneth Chan Chi-yuk, chairman of the Elderly Services Association of Hong Kong. “It is a huge headache for us.”

Lockdowns in mainland China have complicated plans to bring over workers to care for Hong Kong’s elderly. Photo: David Wong

Chan said care homes were recruiting thousands of mainland workers under the relaxed supplementary labour scheme, but at least 300 of them were suddenly placed under lockdown before coming to Hong Kong.

He added that flight suspensions between the city and other countries also made it impossible to bring workers from elsewhere.

An employment agency helping the government hire mainland care workers, F.E.L.C. (Hong Kong) Co Limited, said the company planned to bring over about 100 workers to the city on March 15, but only about 70 made it, after the rest were placed under a citywide lockdown in Shenzhen starting from the same day.

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Operators of care homes said the recruitment process faced additional challenges as candidates were concerned about Hong Kong’s Covid-19 outbreak.

About one-third of the staff in private care homes were mainlanders, but it became more difficult to recruit workers from across the border during the pandemic, as many were concerned about Hong Kong’s infections, Chan said.

Given the difficulties in bringing over mainland help, Chan said care homes were also recruiting local staff to make up for the shortage, which was proving challenging as many were unwilling to look after infected elderly patients. The government and medical institutions were also competing for recruits with higher salaries, he added.

According to Chan, a local recruitment event held earlier this month initially attracted about 2,000 people. But only 20 were eventually hired, after many candidates withdrew because they were unwilling to care for elderly patients with Covid-19.
Staff writer

Question prompts:

  • Based on News, identify and elaborate on TWO reasons for the city’s ongoing shortage of care workers despite efforts to recruit help from the mainland.

  • What does the recruitment event reveal about Hong Kong’s dependence on non-local care workers, and why? Explain using News, Context and your own knowledge.

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Illustration: Shutterstock

Question prompts:

  • What do the viruses in the illustration suggest about seniors’ vulnerability to Covid-19 infection, and why? Explain using your own knowledge.

  • Using information from Context and News, identify and explain what is currently lacking in Hong Kong to keep this group of people better protected.

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Issue: Relaxed hiring rules for imported care workers draws criticisms, concerns

The government’s plan to recruit care workers from the mainland has been met with mixed reactions, with some expressing concerns about the relaxed eligibility requirements and possible repercussions on the local caregiving sector.

In early March, Kenneth Chan Chi-yuk, chairman of the Elderly Services Association of Hong Kong, said care homes were struggling to operate amid a rise in infections.

“We are now in deep water ... Also, we should not question those who are willing to offer us help in such critical situations,” he said, referring to questions about why the government was open to hiring people with no experience.

Hong Kong has relaxed its supplementary labour scheme requirements to give care homes more flexibility to import workers. Photo: Jelly Tse

Cheng Ching-fat, secretary of the Community Care and Nursing Home Workers General Union, however, said the move to import carers was “totally absurd” and would deal a huge blow to the local caregiving sector.

Cheng said the sector had a high turnover rate, with many carers discouraged by low pay and poor working environments. Many carers who used to work in several homes at the same time were barred from doing so by employers for fear of cross-infection, he added.

He said: “The government should focus resources on luring more local carers back to the industry, instead of trying to attract carers with no experience from elsewhere.”

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Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Bill Tang Ka-piu said he supported the move to ease the manpower shortage, adding that Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong had promised to maintain a ratio of two local workers for every cross-border one after June.

In mid-March, after some mainland medical staff had arrived in the city, Dr Tony Ling Siu-chi, president of the Public Doctors’ Association, expressed concerns that the adjustment period for the medical staff from the mainland would not be as smooth as expected. He noted difficulties in communicating basic medical terms had arisen.

Local professionals were also expected to supervise their mainland counterparts in certain areas of work, Ling said, as he expressed concerns the arrangement would lead to lower efficiency over time.
Staff writers

Question prompts

  • Why does Cheng Ching-fat think that importing carers would deal a huge blow to the local caregiving sector and its employees?

  • Based on your answer above, elaborate on whether Cheng’s concerns are valid using News and Issue.

  • Cheng also argued three days of training was insufficient to look after the elderly, and a lack of experience working with such residents or dealing with infections could put people at risk. To what extent do you agree, and why? Explain using News and Context.

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  1. Care home: a facility where people with particular issues or special needs, such as the elderly or disabled, live and are looked after

  2. Care workers: also called carers or caregivers. They take care of people who are ill or disabled. They are responsible for the physical care and emotional support of people with a variety of needs. Unlike healthcare workers who are usually employed by hospitals or clinics, care workers mostly work in care homes or private residences.

  3. Covid-19 lockdowns in mainland China: refers to places in mainland China where movement within or access to the areas has been restricted because of a surge in Covid-19 cases

  4. Elderly: refers to those who are aged 65 and above

  5. Relaxed supplementary labour scheme: a temporary measure from March 1 to May 31 that has relaxed certain employment requirements so the care sector can more easily import care workers from the mainland. The scheme, launched in 1996 to help companies hire from abroad if there was a lack of suitable local candidates, typically requires employers to show they were unable to fill the position after four weeks of open recruitment in the city.

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