|In a recent radio programme, 'Letter to Hong Kong',
aired by RTHK, I said that the immediate shortage of skilled
professionals in certain areas of the IT and financial
services fields is apparent for all to see. However, Hong
Kong is not competitively positioned to attract these
skilled professionals. And a proactive immigration policy
is clearly necessary.
The need to review our immigration policy has become
increasingly important, especially as the IT field is
gearing up for the upcoming auction of the four 3G licences.
Successful bidders are expected to roll out quickly
the huge infrastructures required to enable a head start
in this new telecommunications field.
The Government clearly wants Hong Kong to be a leader
in this sector and to maintain our status as the regional
telecommunications hub. But with Europe and many other
developed countries in Asia Pacific all racing to introduce
3G mobile phone services simultaneously, the world-wide
scramble for skilled professional engineers, technicians
and marketing personnel has become intense.
I do realise that many Internet services are finding
it difficult to survive and if redundancies in this
area occur, they are likely to come from design, script
writing and reporting. Some skills are more in demand
than others and it serves to illustrate the need for
the Hong Kong Government to define precisely the types
of professional qualification and skill needed to prevent
misuse of our immigration policy. If the Government
ignores this advice, it may result in the importation
of cheaper labour, of which there is already an abundant
With regard to the financial services sector, Hong
Kong's market is a fairly mature. In the past decade,
the number of major Hong Kong corporations outside the
territory has increased. Some are already international
players with their main source of income being derived
from non-local activities. Others have grown regionally,
often with offices in China. As such, the managerial
and financial skills required to keep operations running
smoothly from Hong Kong headquarters can hardly be satisfied
by locally trained personnel. The same can be said for
the professional services sector. As such, attracting
talented overseas experts who are knowledgeable aobut
other overseas markets and regulatory frameworks is
clearly warrented to meet demand.
We must realise that the potential for the internal
growth of Hong Kong-based corporations is already limited.
To continue growing, or just to keep pace with the growth
of neighbouring cities such as Shanghai, Shenzen and
Singapore, indicates that there is no room for complacency
in our competitive business world. We must not only
recognise our competitors' strengths and abilities to
adjust to market changes but must also try to match
and eventually pre-empt their every move. And this applies
to attracting overseas professionals to Hong Kong.
I think the worldwide trend of attracting overseas
talent is irreversible as business communities become
increasingly globalised. Indeed, Hong Kong has thrived
on an open-door policy for overseas skilled professionals
in the past. At the dawn of China's accession to the
WTO, Hong Kong must adjust its recruitment focus and
look closer to home.
Although I can see the necessity of admitting Mainland
professionals, I am concerned with the way the Government
is explaining this policy to the public.
The criteria for an applicant's entry eligibility under
the 'Admission of Mainland Professionals' scheme appears
to be tentative and vague. The areas he or she needs
to satisfy are: (1) have basic academic qualifications
and work experience; (2) a confirmed offer of employment;
and (3) minimal remuneration broadly commensurate with
the prevailing market level for professionals. If this
is the case, job opportunities for IT and financial
services professionals will be threatened.
In implementing this scheme, the Government must bear
in mind that this is a sensitive issue for local workers.
Also, the Government will need to consider the way in
which Mainland workers are perceived. For a long time,
the majority of immigrant workers from the Mainland
have been mostly unskilled.
It will take some effort to persuade people to recognise
that Mainlanders are now 'skilled professionals'.
To use the words 'Mainland Professionals' is deceptive
as in reality we may not always be looking for 'special'
professional skills. We may be just looking for a thorough
understanding of the way specific Mainland corporations
work; or someone with the right connections; or someone
with a native command of Putonghua. Whatever the reason,
Mainland professionals will be recruited to help Hong
Kong firms compete and eventually deliver more sophisticated
professional services to Mainland corporations.
To alleviate the anxieties of our local workforce,
a sensible limit should be set on the number of eligible
applicants in each job category, as well as establishing
a mechanism for regular review. These reviews should
be conducted in a transparent manner and supported by
independent, systematic surveys on the manpower needs
for each skill category. And the results should be made
For the 'Admission of Mainland Professionals' scheme
to move forward, the Government, the business community
and our workforce must trust each other. The scheme's
potential problem areas include not having proper checks
in place to verify precise numbers and qualification
requirements; over-selling of the scheme by Government
officials without clear definition of the types of skill
needed, or a full analysis of the likely impact on the
local workforce; low entrance requirements without safeguards
against possible abuse; and under estimating the demand
and supply for Mainland professionals.
Casting the net too wide could result in a problem
equivalent to the '85,000 housing target blunder'.
Adapted from a 'Letter to Hong Kong' written by Eric
Li, previously aired on RTHK. Eric Li is the Accountancy
Functional Constituency Representative on LegCo. His
website can be found at http://www.ericli.org