23rd July 2020 – (Hong Kong) In March, we wrote in an article that despite the government’s flexible new rule for the domestic helpers to extend their stay in Hong Kong as a tourist for a maximum period of one month in between employment contracts, the Immigration Department has yet to address the similar problem for foreign expatriates in Hong Kong who are switching employment, activating their business investment visa or waiting for their GEP (General Employment Policy) visa during the COVID-19 outbreak. Immigration Department has been strongly urged to allow activation of their work visas or investment visas without requiring the foreign expatriates to leave the city.

Several foreign expatriates have lamented their dissatisfaction to us after they were required to leave Hong Kong and go to Macau or return to their country for a visa run during this critical period. They either had to leave Hong Kong port, take a bus via the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge before being refused entry at Macau and returned to Hong Kong again to activate their new employment visa at the Hong Kong Immigration checkpoint. With the new regulations, they will have to undergo an unnecessary 14-day mandatory quarantine upon their return to Hong Kong.

A British citizen named Matthew told Dimsum Daily that he has been working in Hong Kong since May 2019 to May 2020 on a working holiday visa. Months before his visa was about to expire, his company applied for a GEP employment visa for him. He waited until July 2020 before it was approved. Delay was caused by reduced services in HK immigration due to the COVID-19 epidemic and some adjustments were made to his application. He remained in Hong Kong and was given an extension of stay without visa.

After he received the visa he pleaded with the Hong Kong Immigration asking for them to help him to activate his visa without the normal procedure of leaving HK and returning to activate it. Under normal circumstances, he would not wish to bother the department but these are unusual times and he feared for his personal safety. Instead, they suggested him to fly to UK or go to Macau for a visa run. Leaving with limited options, he decided to fly to U.K. instead and came back to Hong Kong just to activate his new work visa. Not only that, he was forced to undergo the unnecessary 14-day mandatory quarantine. During his unwarranted trip to U.K., Matthew could have exposed himself to the epidemic and brought it back to Hong Kong.

To make things more complicated, under the new regulation, a traveller who, on the day on which the traveller boarded a civil aviation aircraft that arrives at, or is about to arrive at Hong Kong (specified aircraft), or during the 14 days before that day, has stayed in any specified place (i.e. Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and South Africa), must provide a nucleic acid test report for COVID-19 the sample for which was taken from the relevant traveller within 72 hours before the scheduled time of departure of the specified aircraft.

This entire process will not only bring extreme inconvenience and health risks to foreign expatriates who are based in Hong Kong but also result in unnecessary costs by the government to carry out virus tests and to check on them during the 14-day mandatory quarantine. The person-in-quarantine will also need to bear his own quarantine costs just to activate a work visa.

For those who choose to go to Macau for visa-run, they are still required to undergo virus test and 14-day mandatory quarantine despite the fact that they have not technically left Hong Kong or stepped foot in Macau.

The government should perhaps allow the working visa of foreign expatriates to be activated without having to leave Hong Kong during this critical period. Most of them do not want to expose themselves to the risks of infection and the unnecessary hassle of quarantine.