Hong Kong joins race with mainland cities for talents

Residential and commercial buildings are seen in Hong Kong in 2012. Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong has launched a massive project to introduce scientific and technological talents, part of a national strategy to build the Greater Bay Area which links Hong Kong, Macau and some cities of Guangdong province into an integrated economic and business center.

Last week, the government of China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region announced plans to usher in professionals and experts from the Chinese mainland and foreign countries in the next three years, with the privilege of obtaining entry and work permits within a fortnight, shorter than the average four weeks.

In the first year of the implementation of the pilot scheme, some 1,000 talented people will be introduced to the former British colony. The talent introduction scheme will be initially beneficial to the tenants and incubators affiliated to the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation and Cyberport, which specialize in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics, data analytics, financial technologies and material science, with each firm being given a yearly admission quota of no more than 100 talents.

If a company wants to be a beneficiary of the talent introduction project, it must justify to Hong Kong's Innovation and Technology Commission that the talents they seek are in short supply or their skills are not easily available in the city.

These talents are required to hold academic diplomas in science, technology, engineering and mathematics granted by the world-class universities including the top 100 in the QS World University Rankings, the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities. Talents with a master's degree or a doctoral degree will be given priority to work in Hong Kong without work experience, while those holding a bachelor's degree need to have a year of work experience related to science and technology.

"Talents play a key role in Hong Kong's innovation, and the city has a strong desire for scientific and technological talents," said Nicholas Yang, the city's secretary for innovation and technology, adding that the talent introduction plan will help local companies introduce needed talents from the Chinese mainland and foreign countries in simpler procedures and shorter time.

Lawmaker Charles Mok, however, cast doubts about the efficiency of the talent introduction plan, saying that the firms based in the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation and Cyberport are mainly startups which do not need too many employees, let alone overseas talents. The low requirement for work experience also cannot meet the demand for the development of artificial intelligence technologies, said Mok.

A best way to attract talents to Hong Kong is to persuade technology giants to relocate some of their operations to the city, suggested Mok.

The lawmaker also said that the talent introduction project is short of favorable policies like housing subsidies, compared with other cities in the Greater Bay Area.

Earlier this year, many big and second-tier cities in the Chinese mainland began scrambling for talents by rolling out favorable policies.

In March, Beijing, a city where most migrant workers find it impossible to get permanent residency, adopted new measures to attract excellent researchers, heavyweight entrepreneurs and winners of technology and invention awards, who will be given priority for the city's permanent residency.

Beijing's move came after China's smaller cities including Hangzhou, Wuhan and Nanjing doubled down their efforts on making themselves more attractive to talents.

Nanjing, the capital city of eastern China's Jiangsu province, has designed favorable policies, under which people who hold a master's degree or higher academic degrees are entitled to the city's permanent residency. University students can get a one-off government subsidy of 2,000 yuan if they start a business locally, according to Nanjing's policies.

Wuhan, the capital city of the Chinese southern province of Hubei has done similar things, with its Party secretary calling on graduate and doctoral students to stay by providing talent-focused housing policies which enable them to buy an apartment with lower prices.

And Hangzhou, the host city of the G20 summit in 2016, has also followed suit, even lowering the academic threshold for citizenship application and offering government housing subsidy of up to 1 million yuan to a high-end talent who agrees to work there.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed the importance of strengthening the scientific and technological cooperation between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, saying that the central government will support Hong Kong's ambition to become a global innovation center.

The construction of China's Greater Bay Area, which is said to be comparable with the New York and San Francisco Bay Areas as well as the Tokyo Bay Area, is a part of the cooperation, and has been written into Xi's report delivered at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017.

The Greater Bay Area project brings the cities of Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Zhongshan, Dongguan, Huizhou, Jiangmen and Zhaoqing under a coordinated development region, which will serve as an experimental field for the technological, economic and tourist cooperation between the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macau.

A survey shows that most of the young people in Hong Kong are optimistic about the prospects of the Greater Bay Area and believe that the region will become the new powerhouse for Hong Kong's economy, according to a report by the Southern Metropolis Daily.

Also, the connectivity of transportation infrastructure like the high-speed rail connecting Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Shenzhen will turn the Greater Bay Area into a region where people can crisscross within one hour.

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