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Working in Hong Kong


Because of its sound legal and financial infrastructure, low tax, reasonably stable government and its geographic location, Hong Kong is home to many international companies. Foreigners and locals have worked side by side for close to two centuries, with few frustrations and big rewards.

Strong economic recovery is pushing up rents, construction is in full swing, stock markets are high and the good times are rolling. People remain cautious however and things have changed for expatriates. Previously, foreign workers walked straight into jobs, often not requiring a visa to enter or work. Stories abound about backpackers who became managing directors.

It’s a little different now. Immigration laws are strict and though citizens of some countries are allowed visa-free stays, many need sponsored visas. In order to work here you have to be a professional with good qualifications and proven experience. Ideally you’ll be given a complete expatriate package so as not to be a burden to social security, but at the very least the Immigration Department will need to be convinced that you’ll contribute to Hong Kong’s economy. Immigration also needs to be satisfied that this position can’t be filled locally before permitting an expatriate to be employed. Even volunteer work now requires approval from Immigration.

Competition has shifted into the Chinese scene. The talk is now about competition between local, mainland and overseas Chinese as the government now has a talent scheme to allow people from the mainland with specific experience and skills to work in Hong Kong if needed. Mainland Chinese who have lived abroad for more than a year are also allowed to come and work in Hong Kong if they have a much-needed qualification. Expatriates are not only competing with other expatriates but with the Chinese as well and tend to lose out because of the language skill. If companies can find someone locally with the same qualifications, they will, rather than recruit from abroad. Some multinationals continue to keep expatriates from the home country in certain positions, especially senior positions but they employ non-managerial and other staff locally.

Language is another important requirement. Almost all jobs require either Cantonese or Mandarin, or both, as well as English. More doors open to you if you can speak a local language. Degrees are worshipped and the Ivy League colleges of the US are much revered. Companies are also positioned differently. Previously it was the norm for expatriates in Hong Kong to have every perk imaginable but now many get just a basic salary. Some companies, especially investment banks, offer cushy packages including medical, housing, paid annual holidays to the home country, and education for children. Others may include perks like expensive apartments, a car and driver, entertainment allowances, club membership and sometimes biannual paid home leave. Don’t get too excited though – this type of deal is likely to be for a short assignment or for a senior position. You could be offered a local package, which may not include housing, medical and education or annual home leave.

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