The Census and Statics Department recently published population figures. It’s noted there was a net decrease of 95,000 people. At the same time, Hong Kong is becoming an aging society.
The percentage of the population aged 65 to 69 increased from 3.7 percent in 2012 to 7.1 percent, and that from 20 to 24 dropped from 6.4 percent to 4 percent. The talent shortage has become a clear and present danger, especially when the city is striving to become an international innovation and technology center. In a bigger context, the population of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Area grew from 70 million in 2016 to 86 million in 2021. These 16 million new migrants are predominantly young graduates from all parts of the Chinese mainland as well as Hong Kong and foreign countries. The GBA achieved this through proactive talent attraction policies as well as promotion efforts. Young graduates believe there are a lot of development opportunities for them, and rightly so. It is time that Hong Kong also became more proactive in its talent strategy.
There are only two ways to increase the talent pool of a city — cultivating local talent and attracting talent from elsewhere. While the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government has already spent a lot on education, there is always more that could be done, such as investing more on vocational education as well as providing its graduates with better salaries. But it takes time as the birthrate of Hong Kong has been on the low side for a long time. So attracting outside talent is a more achievable solution to the talent shortage problem.
It is a relief that Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu has emphasized several times that Hong Kong needs to attract talent. In the past there were several schemes grouped under the Admission Schemes for Talent, Professionals and Entrepreneurs. However just like its name suggests, it is an “admission scheme”. Instead of welcoming talent with a red carpet like the Singaporean government and our neighbors Shenzhen and Zhuhai do, we are merely “allowing” them to come, and the approval process is a pain according to some of my friends. Some applications took almost one year to get approved and believe me no talent in this world will wait one year to take up a job, if he or she is a real talent. According to Legislative Council papers, since the launch of TechTAS, one of the newest schemes that focuses on information and technology, a total of 726 quota applications were received by the ITC, of which 620 were approved, 63 were rejected, and 43 were withdrawn by the applicant companies as at the end of March 2022. However, the total number of incoming people under the scheme was just over 300. And even if all 620 have come, it is a drop in the ocean compared to our talent gap.
The Singapore government has established a Singapore Talent Recruitment Committee and its Ministry of Manpower has been a key driving force in Singapore’s talent policy, from identifying talent to attracting them and taking care of them after their arrival. In Hong Kong, if our talent policy lays in the hands of the Immigration Department, I am afraid it is neither in their charter nor in their area of expertise.
Another thing we need to remind ourselves of is that talents come from all levels, not just those with doctorates or postdoctorates. The majority of the talent gap is at undergraduate level, where our top local students much prefer medicine, law and business to science and engineering.
My suggestion is that Hong Kong should open its arms to all science and engineering graduates from the top 200 universities of the world and the top 100 universities in the Chinese mainland. We can start with a yearly quota of 5,000, adjustable yearly based on the actual talent gap. We should issue temporary entry permits/visas to these young people and allow them to obtain resident status should they be able to find a permanent job within one year, just like the IANG permits for mainland students who have graduated from Hong Kong universities. At the same time, we should abolish the 20 percent restriction on non-local students for the self-financed tertiary education institutions and attract students both from the mainland and those countries taking part in the Belt and Road Initiative to study here at their own expense.
One thing that has always been a hurdle for new talents is the accommodation. Let me make an innovative suggestion of inviting and subsidizing the fraternity associations of different provinces in China as well as ethnic associations of Southeast Asians and Indians to operate youth hostels at an affordable cost to these new talents. The associations can also help to take care of them in terms of other social needs and help to welcome them into the local community. Of course, we also need to build more affordable international schools as well as allowing religious institutions to be built for those ethnic groups.
All great cities in history became great with migrants. New York, London, Shenzhen, to name a few. Today more than half of the technical talents in Silicon Valley are Asians. Hong Kong attained its success with the help of generations of migrants. Today with the rule of law, clean government and low tax rate as well as modern metropolitan lifestyle, Hong Kong remains attractive to people all over the world who want to share a piece of excitement and growth from China, particularly the GBA. All we need to do is be more proactive, more friendly and more efficient.
刊於2022年9月07日China Daily Hong Kong