Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) is established as a cosmopolitan society that is open and attractive to international immigrants. The Immigration Department (ImmD) is responsible for overseeing the immigration and documentation of local residents, including the processing of applications relating to the Nationality Law of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and claims to right of abode under the Basic Law (BL), the issue of travel documents and identity cards, and the registration of births, deaths and marriages. Though Hong Kong is a territory of China, the BL law provides the HKSAR with complete autonomy in matters relating to immigration. The ImmD was set up in 1961, until then the Hong Kong Police Force was in charge of controlling the immigration.
The liberal immigration policy pursued by the former colony has resulted in a city of immigrants comprised of Chinese, British, Europeans and South Asians and continues to attract professional talents, entrepreneurs and investors from all across the world. Nationals of about 170 countries and territories are allowed visa-free visits to Hong Kong for periods ranging from 7 to 180 days, provided they have a valid passports/ travel document.
Every attempt is made to reinforce the human capital stock to meet the challenges of an ageing population and shrinking workforce by allowing immigrant workers to complement the local workforce. As the SAR boasts of nearly zero unemployment, to ensure continued economic growth and productivity and to enhance its competitiveness HKSAR pursues an open immigration policy that is attractive to foreign professionals, investors and talents. Professionals, entrepreneurs and persons desiring to live, work or study in Hong Kong must obtain appropriate visa or permits before arrival. The ImmD has various schemes in place to allow non-locals and persons from the Mainland to stay and work in the HKSAR. The ImmD processes applications under the various schemes and approvals are entirely discretionary and subject to changes in government policies — the Director of Immigration reserves absolute discretion to refuse any application even if it meets all eligibility criteria.
Successful applicants or those seeking admission under various schemes may also apply to bring in their spouse and unmarried children below 18 years of age to live with them. The person admitted or seeking admission under a scheme is the sponsor of such dependents whose length of stay is linked to that of their sponsors. The dependents are free to pursue employment or studies in HKSAR. The dependents will be allowed to stay in HKSAR only if they continue to meet the following eligibility criteria:
- a proven genuine relationship between the sponsor and the dependent;
- have no detrimental records; and,
- the sponsor is able to provide accommodation and support the dependent’s living at above subsistence standards.
After seven years of continuous ordinary residence, entrants and their dependents may apply for Hong Kong permanent resident status in accordance with the law.
Following is an overview of the various schemes available for foreigners and Mainlanders to enter, stay and work in the HKSAR.
Schemes to Attract Foreign Professionals and Entrepreneurs
General Employment Policy (GEP)
Employment Visa is granted to professionals and entrepreneurs under the General Employment Policy (GEP) to enter, stay and undertake employment in HKSAR. The professionals and entrepreneurs are assessed on a different set of criteria.
Employment Visa for Professionals
The Hong Kong companies that wish to employ foreign professionals should apply for an employment visa under GEP for the potential foreign professional talent that they wish to employ. Notably, there are no quota restrictions for employment visa, and it is also not sector-specific. Therefore, companies regardless of the sector in which they operate can obtain any number of employment visas if the candidates possess special skills, talent, knowledge or experience that are not readily available and of value to Hong Kong. The applicant must have a confirmed employment offer at the time of application, and the employment offered must match his/her educational qualification and experience. Besides having a crime-free personal record, the applicant must have an excellent educational background in the relevant field, and where needed, proven technical skills and professional experience and abilities will be considered in lieu of educational qualification. The salary package offered to the applicant must commensurate with the market standards.
The usual processing time is 1 to 3 months after receipt of all required documents. The initial duration of stay upon the successful issue of employment visas is two years or as long as the employment contract, whichever is shorter. The subsequent extension of stay is 3-3 years or as long as the employment contract, whichever is shorter. Top Tier entrants – those who are granted a stay in Hong Kong under the GEP for not less than two years and has an assessable income of HK$2 million in the preceding tax assessment year – may be granted a six-year extension of stay.
Employment Visa for Entrepreneurs
This scheme is for persons who wish to enter/stay in HKSAR for investment as entrepreneurs under the General Employment Policy (GEP), i.e. to establish or join in business in the HKSAR. Besides having a crime-free personal record, the applicant must have an excellent educational background, or in lieu of which, proven professional experience, technical qualifications and knowledge that are of value to HKSAR. Applicant’s ability to contribute to the competitiveness of the economy will be evaluated by assessing various factors including the business plan, turnover, financial resources, investment, number of local jobs created and the potential for transfer of technology/knowledge/skills. The applicant is required to submit a two-year business plan detailing the nature of the business along with sales forecasts, market analysis, marketing and business development plan and forecast financial statements and organisation and management structure to prove the financial viability and operational feasibility of the business. Also, where applicable, the applicant must submit financial statements of other overseas or Hong Kong companies in which he/she has joined and proof of sources of investments such as personal/business bank statements along with evidence of investment in the Hong Kong business. A projection of the number and levels of jobs that would be created and details of new technology or patents to be used, if any, must be listed out.
The ImmD may seek the advice of other government agencies to evaluate the complementarities of the applicant’s business to the SAR’s enterprise ecosystem and economic clusters. The ImmD will also consider the adequacy of investments and qualifications and examine the track record of the applicant in assessing an application for a visa under the GEP scheme. The application may be evaluated favourably if the applicant is joining or establishing a startup that is supported by a government-backed programme. The applicant should be the proprietor or partner of the start-up company or a key researcher of the relevant project. It usually takes 1 to 3 months to process a visa/entry permit application upon receipt of all the required documents. The initial duration of stay upon the successful issue of visas is two years, and the applicant may be granted a subsequent extension of stay for 3-3 years.
Schemes to attract foreign skilled and technical talent
Quality Migrant Admission Scheme (QMAS)
This quota-based scheme was implemented on June 28, 2006, and it is operated on a points-based system that allows up to 1000 entrants per year. The scheme is meant to attract highly skilled and talented foreigners and persons from the Mainland to settle in Hong Kong. The applicants are not required to secure an employment offer prior to their application; however, before they qualify for points to be awarded under the points-based tests, they are required to fulfil a set of prerequisites. Accordingly, the applicant must
- be of at least 18 years of age;
- demonstrate the personal ability and financial resources to support and accommodate himself/herself and his/her dependents without relying on public assistance;
- have good character and not have any criminal or adverse immigration records;
- be proficient in written and spoken Chinese or English; and,
- have a good degree from a recognised university; however, in exceptional cases, good technical qualifications or professional achievements and experience with documentary proof may be considered in the absence of a degree.
Applicants who have met all the prerequisites may choose to be assessed under one of the two points-based tests, namely the General Points Test (GPT) and Achievement-based Points Test (ABPT). In the former, factors such as age, academic/professional qualifications, work experience, language proficiency, family background are assessed, and a maximum of 225 points are awarded, while the minimum passing mark that changes from time to time is 80 as of 2018.
The Achievement-Based Points test is for applicants with exceptionally outstanding achievements, whereby they will be awarded 225 points if they have received an award of exceptional achievement such as Olympic medals, Nobel prize, and other comparable national/international awards or if their work has been acknowledged by their peers or has significantly aided the development of their field of work or industry. Unlike the GPT, there is no minimum passing mark in the ABPT, because if the applicant qualifies, he/she will be awarded full 225 points else he/she will not be awarded any points. After securing points, the applicants must compete with other applicants for quota allocation.
Selection exercise is conducted regularly for allocating quota to the applicants. In the selection exercise, applicants are ranked according to the scores awarded, and high-scorers are shortlisted for further assessment. The Advisory Committee would make appropriate recommendation to the Director of Immigration on the quota allocation based on the socio-economic needs of the SAR and other factors that determine the applicants’ ability to enhance the HKSAR’s competitiveness. Therefore, the high-scorers would not necessarily be allocated a quota.
The result of the selection exercise will be published on the ImmD’s website. The processing time is longer, and those who are allocated a quota will be issued an approval-in-principle, following which the applicant must attend an interview in person and present originals of all documents. Upon satisfactory verification of documents and completion of all procedures, the applicant will be issued with the visa/entry permit to stay in Hong Kong.
Successful applicants under the GPT scheme may be granted a stay of up to two years upon entry and three years on subsequent extension, resulting in a stay pattern of 2+3+3. The top tier GPT entrants -the applicant has been granted a stay in Hong Kong for not less than two years and has an assessable income of HK$2 million in the preceding tax assessment year – may be granted a stay pattern of 2+6 years. The applicants under the ABPT may be granted a stay of 8 years upon entry.
Technology Talent Admission Scheme (TechTAS)
Implemented on June 25, 2018, the scheme provides a fast- track arrangement for eligible technology companies/institutes to admit non-local technology talent to undertake research and development work for them in Hong Kong. Eligible technology companies/institutes are required to first apply for and obtain quota from the Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC). The allotted quotas are valid for a period of six months and are non-transferable. The companies/ Institutes with such quota can sponsor an eligible non-local to apply for employment visa within the six-month quota validity period. However, it should be noted that the scheme is sector-specific and the applicant must be a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) degree holder from a well-recognised university and must meet the criteria set out in the ITC in the quota allotment letter. The applicant must be offered a remuneration package that is comparable to the market level in Hong Kong. Also, the applicant must be principally employed by the sponsoring company/institute in conducting R&D works in the areas of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics, data analytics, financial technologies or material science.
It generally takes two weeks to process applications for employment visa/entry permit under TechTAS upon receipt of all the required documents.
Immigration Arrangements for Non-local Graduates
Launched on May 19, 2008, this scheme allows non-locals who have obtained a degree or higher qualification in a full-time locally-accredited programme in Hong Kong to stay in/return to Hong Kong to look for a job and work. Successful applicants would be granted 12 months of stay on time limitation, and they are free to take up and change employment during their permitted stay without the need to seek prior approval from the Immigration Department. Non-local students refer to persons entering the HKSAR for the purpose of education with a student visa/entry permit issued by the Director of Immigration.
Those applying within six months after the date of their graduation are classified as ‘non-local fresh graduates’, while those applying beyond six months from the date of their graduation are classified as returning non-local graduates. The fresh graduates are not required to have secured a job offer at the time of application. The returning graduates are required to have an offer of employment, which is at a level commonly taken up by local people with similar qualification and at a salary that is comparable with the market, at the time of application.
Generally, the processing time for fresh graduates is faster, up to two weeks, and for the returning graduates it takes up to four weeks after submission of all required documents. However, the processing time may vary depending on the individual case and the time of application, as the period between June and August is a peak period resulting in longer processing time.
Foreigners, who wish to enter Hong Kong to receive training from well-established companies may apply for a training visa. The visa allows for entry and stay in the SAR for a maximum period of up to one year, in order to acquire special skills and knowledge not available in the applicant’s country/territory of domicile.
Frequent business travellers may make use of this visa, which allows multiple entries into HKSAR and a stay period of up to two months on each trip during the validity (usually three years) of the visa. It facilitates easy and quick immigration clearance at the checkpoints as the holders of this visa are allowed to use resident counters with automated clearance system. To be eligible for the travel pass, the applicant must have made at least three trips to the SAR (not including transits on visits to the Mainland or Macau) in the 12 months preceding the application. Otherwise, the applicant must demonstrate the economic benefits of his/her visits to the SAR.
The visa is not a work visa but allows business persons who are not entitled to visa waiver or those who wish to stay beyond the visa-free period in HKSAR to stay and attend to business matters. They are not allowed to work but are allowed to conclude contracts or submit tenders, inspect or supervise installation or packing of goods or equipment, participate in exhibitions or trade fairs, seminars, business meetings, or meet clients or suppliers etc. However, they are not allowed to sell or supply goods and services directly to the general public, take up employment of paid or unpaid nature or establish or join in any business.
What are the Schemes to attract the mainland and overseas second-generation HK talent
Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals (ASMTP)
The scheme was implemented on July 15, 2003, with assessment criteria in line with those under the GEP. The objective of this scheme is to attract qualified Mainland talent and professionals to work in Hong Kong and complement its local workforce and contribute to its competitiveness. The scheme is not sector-specific and allows intra-company transfers of senior managers and professionals. The applicant must have a confirmed employment offer at the time of application, and the employment offered must match his/her educational qualification and experience. Besides having a crime-free personal record, the applicant must have a good educational background in the relevant field. Where needed, technical skills and proven experience and professional abilities will be considered in place of educational qualification. The salary package offered to the applicant must commensurate with the market standards.
The processing time is 1 to 3 months after receipt of all required documents. Upon entry, the initial duration of stay and subsequent extension of stay pattern is 2-3-3 years.
Admission Scheme for the Second Generation of Chinese Hong Kong Permanent Residents (ASSG)
The scheme was implemented on May 4, 2015. It is a quota-free scheme intended to attract the second generation of Chinese Hong Kong permanent residents who have emigrated overseas, to return to Hong Kong and contribute to its economic competitiveness and development. The rationale behind the scheme is the hope that the overseas experience, exposure and knowledge gained abroad by potential entrants would add to the vibrancy of the local workforce. Also, amidst competition for such talents in the region, the government hopes that the family ties of the potential entrants in the SAR may act as strong incentives for their return to Hong Kong.
Applications can be made without securing an employment offer. Processing time is 1 to 3 months, and successful applicants are generally granted 12months stay to look for employment opportunities. They are free to take up or change employment or to establish or join in business in Hong Kong during their permitted stay without the need to seek prior approval from the ImmD. In order to be eligible, the applicant must,
- be at least 18 but not older than 40 at the time of application;
- be born overseas with at least one parent who is a holder of a valid Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card at the time of application and was a Chinese national who had settled overseas at the time of the applicant’s birth;
- be proficient in written, and spoken Chinese or English; and,
- have the financial means to meet his/her living expenses and accommodation in Hong Kong independently.
Hong Kong has an open immigration policy to sustain its economic growth and competitiveness. Though Hong Kong’s immigration framework is plain sailing with clearly spelt out criteria for potential immigrants, it is prudent to engage the service of professional service providers to guide you through the Hong Kong visa application process.
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