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Hong Kong has a plan to stem its COVID brain drain. Here’s how its new visa stacks up to Singapore for high-earning expats

October 19, 2022, 10:07 AM UTC
Expat familes depart Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok international airport on March 6, 2022. The new visa seek to stem a brain drain following Hong Kong’s slow reopening of its international borders, with many foreigners leaving the city for alternative locations.
Peter Parks—AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong is overhauling visa rules to attract foreign talent as it battles with rival finance hubs like Singapore for talent following nearly three years of pandemic isolation.

Chief Executive John Lee said in his maiden policy address that the city will grant a two-year visa to high earners who earned at least HK$2.5 million ($318,480) in the past year, as well as for graduates from the top-ranked universities. The city will also suspend the annual quota of its current program for skilled talent and extend the limit of stay for non-local graduates from one to two years. 

The moves seek to stem a brain drain following Hong Kong’s slow reopening of its international borders, with many foreigners leaving the city for alternative locations like Singapore, which has relaxed Covid restrictions much faster.

Singapore in August announced its own long-term work visas to ease a tight labor market, targeted toward foreigners earning S$360,000 ($253,530) annually.

For some, Hong Kong’s visa changes are sorely needed. 

The new policy “is even better and more aggressive than Singapore’s talent policy — it’s stronger and more flexible,” said Ricky Chiu, chairman and chief executive officer of PHASE Scientific International Limited, a biotech firm that has struggled to find experienced candidates to help handle a Covid testing-induced boom. “This is a very sincere policy change from before.”

“If you really want to win in this talent acquisition war, then you really need to have a policy that is more favorable than your competitors,” he added.

Here is a breakdown of how the two Asian hubs compare on foreign visas:

 Hong KongSingapore
New visa programTop Talent Pass SchemeONEPass
EligibilityEarn HK$2.5 million ($318,480) or above in the past yearEarn a monthly equivalent of S$360,000 ($253,530) a year 
Validity2 years5 years
Start dateProgram will be set up within the year, and launched for a period of two years. Will be reviewed after first year of implementationJan. 1, 2023
Other talent visasGraduates from the world’s top 100 universities will be eligible for a 2 year visa. Those without at least 3 years of work experience in the past 5 years will be subject to an annual quota of 10,000Establishment of a points-based system for visa candidates from 2023 that parallels similar programs in the UK and Canada
Local recruitmentEmployers not required to provide proof for local recruitment under the 13 professions with shortage of local supply or vacancies with annual salary of HK$2 million or aboveEffective Sept. 1 next year, plans to exempt jobs comparable to those held by top 10% of Employment Pass holders from the need to advertise locally before hiring foreigners
Technology focusLifting requirement for technology firms to employ additional local employeesTwo-year visa for eligible workers to start and operate multiple tech companies

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