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The State of ImmigrationHong Kong

Navigating Its Own Path on Immigration

Hong Kong’s immigration policies match its reputation as a place of economic freedom. Although it is less easy to hire lower-skilled workers or to be granted a visa if one is a foreign-born entrepreneur, Hong Kong maintains no quotas on hiring high-skilled foreign nationals and maintains clear policies on lawful permanent residence (Right of Abode), intracompany transfers and retaining international students postgraduation.

Hong Kong has been rated the number one place in the world for economic freedom, and it is no surprise that it has adopted economically beneficial immigration policies.98

A British colony considered barren and poverty stricken after World War II, Hong Kong rode free market policies established by British administrators to become one of the world’s most vibrant economies. One factor in that economic success: opening its doors to immigrants.

Hong Kong’s population has risen from less than 2.2 million in 1950 to more than 7 million today.99 The percentage of foreign born in Hong Kong is 39 percent, nearly three times as high as the U.S. proportion.100

Under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration entered into between China and the United Kingdom, Hong Kong was granted a “high degree of autonomy” in domestic affairs when it reverted to China on July 1, 1997.101 Hong Kong, as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, still maintains an immigration system separate from Mainland China. While Mainland Chinese are allowed to move to Hong Kong under both the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme and the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talent, the Hong Kong Immigration Department aims to ensure that such opportunities are legitimate.

Employers and foreign-born professionals enjoy a system with no quotas on temporary visas for high-skilled foreign nationals. Under the General Employment Policy, employers are not required to advertise or pay a specific salary and refusals of application are in the 2 to 3 percent range, according Christopher Hooley, partner at Oldham, Li & Nie.102 Transferring in skilled employees is also not a problem for employers. Hiring lower-skilled workers is more difficult.

International students are encouraged to stay and can file for Immigration Arrangement for Non-Local Graduates status, which allows them a year to search for a job and to be hired by an employer with no additional immigration paperwork.

After seven years of continuous residence in Hong Kong an individual can apply for permanent residence. No quotas exist for grants of permanent residence in any year.

The Quality Migrant Admission Scheme allocates visas via a points-based system. “The points system is not relevant to most employers in Hong Kong,” according to Christopher Hooley. It is mostly used by individuals with unusual or exceptional achievements, such as the recent case of an Olympic diver from Mainland China who wanted to move to Hong Kong after marrying.

As a jurisdiction that values economic freedom, Hong Kong is likely to keep its doors open for the highly skilled immigrants needed to fuel its economy.


98. James Gwartney, Robert Lawson and Joshua Hall.
99. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government.
100. Hong Kong Immigration Department, 2012.
101. The Central Intelligence Agency (2014), The World Factbook.
102. Interview with Christopher Hooley. According to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, salaries for foreign nationals should be “broadly commensurate with the prevailing market rate of Hong Kong.”

Score Breakdown: Hong Kong vs. United States

Attracting Foreign Entrepreneurs
Attracting Foreign Entrepreneurs
3.0 (vs. United States 1.5)

It is possible to gain a renewable visa as an entrepreneur with reasonable investment minimums on the basis that there is a benefit to the Hong Kong economy.

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Hiring High-Skilled Foreign Nationals
Hiring High-Skilled Foreign Nationals
4.5 (vs. United States 2.0)

There are no quotas on high-skilled foreign nationals. There are low denial rates, few bureaucratic rules and a general guideline of salary “commensurate with market wage.” Hong Kong is highly rated for economic freedom.

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Hiring Lower-Skilled Workers
Hiring Lower-Skilled Workers
3.0 (vs. United States 1.5)

Hiring lower-skilled foreign workers is possible in Hong Kong but is more difficult than hiring high-skilled workers due to additional bureaucratic requirements, including local advertising. In the past year, the government has opened the door to allow elder care centers to bring in foreign workers to care for Hong Kong’s aging population.

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Lawful Permanent Residence For High-Skilled Workers
Lawful Permanent Residence For High-Skilled Workers
3.5 (vs. United States 2.5)

There is no annual quota. After seven years of continuous residence, applicants can apply for a Right of Abode (similar to a U.S. green card). There are few denials if the applicant has been working and meets the seven years of continuous residence requirement. The seven-year requirement before granting permanent residence is longer than in most advanced economies.

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Retention of International Students Postgraduation
Retention of International Students Postgraduation
4.5 (vs. United States 3.0)

After filing as “nonlocal graduates,” international students are given a year after graduation to seek employment. They can work for any employer without additional visa requirements.

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Transferring High-Skilled Employees Across Borders
Transferring High-Skilled Employees Across Borders
4.5 (vs. United States 3.0)

Denials are rare for intracompany transferees, but there has been increased scrutiny in the past year.

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About the Report

Business Roundtable selected the evaluated countries based on five criteria:

1. Worldwide university rankings;
2. Per-capita income;
3. Gross domestic product growth rate;
4. Net migration rate; and
5. Research and development investment.

After comparing each advanced economy relative to the five criteria, the top 10 countries (including the United States) were selected for the study: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Switzerland and the United Kingdom (U.K.). Not coincidentally, these are the countries with which the United States competes most for foreign talent, particularly in science and technology fields.

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