25th June 2024 – (Hong Kong) Hong Kong’s quest to attract global talent has been a top priority for the government in recent years. Officials have been working tirelessly to “compete for talent and retain skilled individuals,” with the belief that an influx of new talent will stimulate economic growth. The government has set an ambitious goal of attracting over 100,000 talents to Hong Kong within three years, which, combined with the approximately 50,000 local university graduates each year, is expected to result in an additional 250,000 skilled individuals contributing to the city’s economy.

Since the launch of various talent admission schemes in late 2022, Hong Kong has received over 300,000 applications as of May 2024, with nearly 190,000 approved. Officials have touted the success of these initiatives, estimating that over 700,000 individuals, including spouses and children, have come to Hong Kong as a result. They view this as a vote of confidence in the city’s future, with people “voting with their feet.”

However, concerns have been raised about the effectiveness and fairness of these talent schemes. During a recent meeting of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Manpower, lawmakers questioned the disproportionate number of mainland Chinese among the approved applicants. For example, under the Top Talent Pass Scheme, 43,992 applicants were from mainland China, while only 524 were from the United States—a staggering 83-fold difference. This has led to doubts about the scheme’s appeal to international talents and calls for expanding its reach to attract a more diverse pool of global expertise.

While the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Chris Sun, acknowledged that a quarter of the talents who arrived through these programs held foreign passports, he also noted that having overseas experience is not solely determined by one’s passport. Sun highlighted that 70% of category C applicants graduated from universities in Europe, America, Australia, or Canada.

Nonetheless, the government’s repeated claims of “attracting many talents” have been met with scepticism regarding their actual contribution to Hong Kong’s economy. Lawmakers have pointed to online guides that advise individuals on extending their visas without legitimate employment, leading to cases where talents unable to find work resort to becoming insurance brokers or setting up shell companies. There are also concerns about individuals exploiting the system’s convenience to enter and exit Hong Kong without working for two years.

Moreover, lawmakers have raised questions about the potential for fraud and abuse within the talent schemes, similar to recent crackdowns on public housing misuse. While officials have stressed that insurance also requires talent and that visa renewals for those in the insurance sector will be subject to heightened scrutiny, they have urged talents not to believe online guides and emphasized the strict vetting process conducted by the Immigration Department.

The government has also tightened its requirements for educational qualifications in light of recent diploma fraud incidents. The Immigration Department now requires not only a university degree certificate but also a professional academic assessment to ensure the legitimacy of educational credentials.

As Hong Kong continues its pursuit of global talent, the success of these schemes will depend on the government’s ability to prioritise quality over quantity. Merely focusing on the number of applicants as a measure of “achievement” risks neglecting the true purpose of these initiatives. There are valid concerns that an oversupply of talent may limit upward mobility opportunities for local youth, and while low unemployment rates indicate job availability, they do not necessarily reflect the development potential for young people.

To ensure the effectiveness of Hong Kong’s talent importation efforts, the government must adopt a quality-driven approach. Attracting individuals who can make genuine contributions to the city’s economic growth should be the primary focus, rather than simply aiming for impressive application numbers. Failure to do so may result in a flawed system that stifles local talent and undermines the very objectives these schemes aim to achieve.