Destination focus — Hong Kong’s reboot gains traction with global talent
Six months after the unwinding of Hong Kong’s pandemic restrictions began, the government is banking on a huge raft of incentives to lure back international talent.
In this edition of Reloverse, we look at the professionals who departed and those returning to Asia’s world city—as it declares itself boundary-free and back in business. Are we witnessing a rally, a rebound or the start of a sustained recovery?
Reversal of fortune
With cross-border travel between Hong Kong and the mainland restored and the end of Covid controls, there’s a feeling of optimism in the Special Administrative Region (SAR)—underpinned by growth forecasts of four per cent for this year. Contrast that optimistic outlook with 2022—when GDP shrank by a similar number: even by Hong Kong’s dynamic standards, it’s quite a pendulum swing. But to revitalise its status as both a bridgehead for international banking and the world’s most visited city, no effort or expense is being spared.
Flourish and fanfare
Last month the Hong Kong Tourism Board announced a global giveaway of 500,000 free return flights worth €240 million. Visitors are certainly important, but pre-pandemic tourism accounted for less than five per cent of GDP. And it’s a tougher market than ever, globally and regionally. Even within the megalopolis of the Greater Bay Area, neighbouring Macau overtook London this year as the five-star hotel capital of the world. So, more financial firepower is focused on attracting enterprises and talent over travellers. But how are these big-ticket initiatives faring since their launch?
Targeting talent and technology
Last October, Hong Kong Chief Executive, John Lee, set out a plan to restore and grow global competitiveness. Four key pillars proactively target enterprise and talent.
Broader trading base
The first is an agency tasked principally with enticing advanced technology companies to set up in or return to Hong Kong. 25% of the SAR’s GDP currently comes from financial services, and some 20% from trading and logistics. The Office for Attracting Strategic Enterprises (OASES) has set up teams in 17 global locations with a remit to incentivise specific sectors to broaden and futureproof the region’s trading base. These range from artificial intelligence and data science to advanced manufacturing and new energy technologies. The agency promises tailored plans to help with land, finance and taxation—and the practicalities of arranging visas and children’s education. OASES’s advisory committee was appointed last week with defined targets and timescales to report on progress.
Incentives for individuals
The second major initiative is the Talent Service Unit, aimed at individuals internationally and from the mainland. Under the brand Hong Kong Talent Engage, it features a polished, consumer-friendly online platform offering a one-stop shop for information, opportunities and visa applications. The TSU expects to exceed its target of attracting 35,000 professionals a year by coordinating and processing e-Visas free from the opacity and bureaucracy traditionally associated with Hong Kong immigration. The portal also signposts applicants to other niche schemes such as the Technology Talent Admission Scheme (TechTAS)— where again there’s a focus on the future, including R&D in biotech, cybersecurity, quantum technology and robotics.
High-worth, high achievers
Launched with some ceremony last month, the Top Talent Pass Scheme is now live—focused on high-income individuals and graduates from the world’s top 100 universities. There’s no set target or limit on numbers, but core qualification criteria are that applicants must have either earned over €300,000 last year—or graduated from the World University Rankings leaderboard and have relevant work experience. A limited number (10,000 a year) will also be eligible with the same academic attainment but less professional experience. The first batch of applicants is being processed, with many expected to arrive in Hong Kong within weeks.
The final piece of John Lee’s policy of “charting a brighter tomorrow for Hong Kong” is financial support. The creation of a €3 billion Co-Investment Fund (CIF) with cash from the region’s Sovereign Wealth Fund will be a magnet for many who are weighing up other options across Asia and the Middle East where similar initiatives are being touted. The CIF is being managed by the newly formed Hong Kong Investment Corporation, consolidating other initiatives including the Hong Kong Growth Portfolio, the Greater Bay Area Investment Fund, and the Strategic Tech Fund as a single vehicle to oversee and steer attracting strategic industries and enterprises.
Since 2021 almost 150,000 members of Hong Kong’s workforce have left the region—and a similar number opted to choose the British National (Overseas) visa programme to resettle in the United Kingdom. The number of corporates choosing The SAR as their Asia region headquarters is also low: there are now more mainland Chinese companies headquartered in the city than those from the United States for the first time in three decades. But defined programmes and the cash to carry them out means Hong Kong is firmly back on the Global Mobility map. The pace of change is impressive, but if Hong Kong is famous for anything, it’s just that. A sense of drive and dynamism that makes it an exciting place to live, work and thrive.
Patrick Groth, Santa Fe’s general manager for Hong Kong and Taiwan said “We see so much change in southeast Asia, but our geography remains a constant competitive advantage over our neighbours. Hong Kong is the world’s largest offshore renminbi hub and a natural gateway to China. It’s a symbiotic relationship worth over €500 billion a year in bilateral trade, making the city perfectly placed for international investment”.
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