Hong Kong’s reinvigorated efforts to lure global talent may entice more professionals from India, business community leaders suggest, as the city seeks to re-engage with the world following more than two years of stringent Covid-19 border restrictions and the social unrest of 2019.
The recruitment drive, announced by Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu in his maiden policy address on October 19, will include incentives for high earners and top university graduates.
Lee acknowledged the new measures aimed to turn things around, with the city’s local workforce having shrunk by about 140,000 and a plunge in the number of visas issued recently. “Apart from actively nurturing and retaining local talent, the government will proactively trawl the world,” he said.
According to government statistics, 13,821 visas were issued last year under the general employment policy, compared with 14,617 in 2020.
These numbers are a far cry from the 41,793 visas approved before the pandemic in 2019.
India – which offers a deep talent pool in a number of industries, including tech, finance and logistics – is well positioned to benefit from these new measures, industry insiders say.
Hong Kong has been able to largely retain its existing Indian talent pool, and as a result, still presents itself as a popular destination for prospective Indian workers who are encouraged by continued positive feedback from the diaspora in the city, these insiders say.
Gautam Bardoloi, president of the Forum of Indian Professionals in Hong Kong, said the worker exodus from the city over the past two years had not been reflected in the Indian professional community.
“Within the Indian diaspora, and especially among the senior-level Indian professionals, I have not seen a big impact,” Bardoloi said.
“Yes, there might be the odd person relocating to Singapore because their company has moved, or others moving back to India because their tenure in Hong Kong is over,” he said, adding that he had not seen a mass flight of Indians from Hong Kong for reasons beyond those factors.
There are more than 42,000 Indians in Hong Kong, and nearly 33,000 of them hold Indian passports, according to a July 2022 update on the website of the Consulate General of India in Hong Kong.
“Increasingly, a large number of Indian professionals are coming into Hong Kong, working in the service industry, banking and finance, information technology, shipping, et cetera,” it said.
Hong Kong approved 1,034 visa applications from Indian nationals under its general employment policy in 2021, and 560 applications in the first six months of 2022, according to government data. Before the pandemic, in 2019, 2,684 visas were issued to Indian nationals under the same general employment policy.
Most of the businesses that are part of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (ICCHK) – which has around 500 corporate members and 200 individual members – have been embedded in Hong Kong for many generations and thus have not left the city, according to chairman Raj Sital.
As far as professionals are concerned, however, the travel restrictions over the past few years “have played havoc with people and their ability to travel back home and see their friends and relatives”.
“A certain percentage [of Indian professionals] have decided to pick up and move elsewhere, but that number is much smaller compared to other foreign communities,” he said.
From students to workers
One of the new measures Hong Kong is looking to offer is a Top Talent Pass Scheme – granting a two-year visa to individuals who earn no less than HK$2.5 million (US$318,000) annually, and graduates of the world’s top 100 universities with at least three years’ working experience over the past five years.
The scheme is similar to one unveiled recently by Singapore to lure high-fliers earning at least HK$168,700, or S$30,000, a month, or about HK$2 million (US$255,000) annually.
Lee’s policy address also saw him relaxing the Immigration Arrangements for Non-Local Graduates (IANG) by extending the limit of stay for international students graduating from Hong Kong universities from one year to two.
Bardoloi suggests one reason for the large Indian workforce in Hong Kong’s tech, shipping and finance industries is the sizeable number of students who come to the city to study these subjects in their higher education.
The extension of the IANG limit of stay, therefore, could favour these students.
“The academic rigour in Hong Kong is considered quite competitive with the rest of the world and both in terms of proximity and economically, it is a lot more viable for students from India to come here as opposed to the US or the UK,” he said. “We see a lot of these Indian students slowly merge into the employment base in Hong Kong after university.”
A large number of students become integrated into Hong Kong’s existing finance and tech industries, and some might be drawn to entrepreneurship opportunities as the city aims to keep growing its tech start-up ecosystem.
A fight for talent
However, Hong Kong also continues to face competition from long-time rival Singapore and, increasingly, Dubai.
“Dubai has been attracting a lot of talent recently, especially from the subcontinent. If I had to pick a place where Indian talent from Hong Kong is moving to, even though it’s a small percentage, it would be to the UAE and, in particular, Dubai,” Sital said.
Indian professionals also faced challenges in fields such as medicine and accounting, he added.
“India has a large pool of talent and many tertiary-educated people,” Sital said. “However, the biggest problem is matching the criteria of their educational background that will allow them to work here.”
For example, the medical profession now allows certain doctors to practise in Hong Kong if they have degrees or certifications from specific medical schools. This list includes qualifications from universities in Singapore, China, South Africa, Canada, the US and Britain.
“India has been excluded from this list, even though India has a huge medical talent pool,” he said. “The same thing goes with accountants whose professional degrees from Indian institutes are not recognised in Hong Kong, so they have to go through rigorous testing before they can qualify to work here.”
In the long term, Hong Kong’s chances of enticing India’s brightest talent may lie in further policy changes that broaden recognition of credentials obtained from within the South Asian nation, observers say.
“The idea of letting new talent come here for a year or two and letting them ‘shop around’ for work opportunities is a good idea, but if their qualifications are not recognised it doesn’t go too far in helping them out,” Sital said. South China Morning Post