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Tuesday, Jul 07, 2020

‘Bad timing’: industry experts pan expanded fast-track immigration scheme by Hong Kong government to lure tech talent

Lawmaker Charles Mok bemoans city’s battered global image amid protest violence and coronavirus outbreak, while experts say plan could be more beneficial if extended to other industries

Industry experts in Hong Kong have panned an expanded fast-track immigration scheme unveiled by the government and aimed at luring talent to the city’s technology sector, questioning its timing amid ongoing protests and the Wuhan coronavirus crisis.

The Innovation and Technology Commission on Thursday said it sought to raise the city’s attractiveness and spur innovation through its upgraded Technology Talent Admission Scheme (TechTAS), despite the lack of uptake.

Under the expansion, the scheme will double the number of areas in the industry that can receive support, with more firms able to take advantage of fast-tracked visa entries.

Francis Fong Po-kiu, one of Hong Kong’s leading IT experts, suggested the government had got its priorities wrong, questioning why the scheme’s expansion was not delayed for several months in light of the challenges the city was weathering.
“The virus outbreak is a public hygiene concern. I don't think people want to come to Hong Kong,” he said, also citing the negative images of long queues for masks compared with the organised distribution in Macau.

“The scheme comes at a very bad time because no one wants to visit.”

“The scheme comes at a very bad time because no one wants to visit.”

He added that while he welcomed the scheme, it would have more benefits if it were expanded to different industries, with a wider net for different countries.

In Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s policy address last year, the scheme was flagged as one element of focus for the government to boost international competitiveness.

In a statement, the commission said it expected more companies to benefit from the expanded scheme, citing “certainty and streamlined procedures” that would “encourage cross-fertilisation of local and non-local talent”.

Originally, companies based in Hong Kong’s two major innovation hubs, the Science Park and Cyberport, were permitted to use the scheme for hiring. Businesses that qualify have to come under any of the seven fields specified, such as biotechnology and artificial intelligence.

With the expansion, eligibility has widened to any company conducting research and development in Hong Kong, with new categories such 5G communications, digital entertainment, green technology and the internet of things – a phrase used to describe the online connection of devices – among others.

Kenny Shui, assistant research director at the Our Hong Kong Foundation, believed the expansion of TechTAS could help build a critical mass of technology talent in Hong Kong.

“The scheme should also include professionals in technology-related fields, such as intellectual property protection and technology management, to help Hong Kong realise the potential of science and technology in different aspects,” he said.

The coronavirus outbreak was an opportunity, he added. He said there was surging demand for technology applications, including biomedicine, big data and e-commerce. “The government needs to take a multipronged approach, such as supporting scientific collaboration and nurturing more talent.”

Charles Mok, lawmaker for the IT sector, echoed digital veteran Fong’s views over the timing of the scheme, expressing doubt that anyone would want to come to Hong Kong under the current political climate and the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
“It is not a good time to do anything except deal with the current problems,” he said. “Who would come to Hong Kong right now to work?”

He added that on top of an already battered global image, the city was losing its IT professionals in a brain drain to Japan, Taiwan and Singapore at an unprecedented rate.

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