SHENZHEN – Before the COVID-19 pandemic, working holidays were popular among young people in many regions around the world, including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Since 2001, the SAR government has signed working holiday arrangements with 14 countries, including Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom. Every year these schemes enable tens of thousands of Hong Kong young people to explore foreign lands in-depth, make new friends and give their lives a good break.
Many youngsters are drawn to such carefree, exploring lifestyle in a land that is not familiar to them. In return, they become a fitting ambassador for the places they go to. Among all these efforts made by the city to invite and encourage youngsters to go north across the boundary to see the world-Bay-Area-in-the-making – the 11-city Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, such working holiday offers may seem an opportunity that couldn’t be passed for those who would like to gain first-hand work and life experiences there.
In recent years, the SAR government rolled out many initiatives to encourage young people to pursue career opportunities in the Greater Bay Area, including the Greater Bay Area Youth Employment Scheme and Funding Scheme for Youth Internship in the mainland.
These schemes can help those with a clear career direction and a comprehensive understanding of the Bay Area. But for many young people who, for various reasons, are still on the fence about the GBA, spending a working holiday in the nine Chinese mainland cities of the Bay Area may help them have the “first taste” of working in the 11-city cluster and explore if it’s the place they want to settle in. People won’t obtain such experiences in short-term travels.
To make the GBA working holiday program more attractive, it should also offer something that other schemes do not offer, such as medical insurance.
According to information from Hong Kong’s Labour Department, many host countries under working holiday schemes such as Japan and the United Kingdom require participants to take out self-funded medical insurance to cover the possible costs incurred aboard. Other countries under the arrangements also advise young backpackers to have adequate insurance covering their trips.
The SAR government can purchase the mainland’s basic medical insurance for each participant in the GBA working holiday program so that they can get public healthcare services while working or traveling in mainland GBA cities.
Many GBA cities like Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Foshan have established a host of youth dormitories to offer temporary accommodation for young job seekers. Through collaborations with the mainland authorities, the Hong Kong government can choose these places to provide affordable short-term accommodation for Hong Kong backpackers. Such dormitories will also be a good place for Hong Kong young people to foster friendships with their peers on the mainland.
The SAR government can also consider buying a “GBA rail pass” for the scheme’s participants so that young backpackers can explore every corner of the Bay Area by taking high-speed trains during the working holiday.
Since the nine mainland GBA cities are also rich in exhibitions and museums, the Hong Kong government may also consider providing participants with special tickets to grant unlimited visits to the cultural venues.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global connectivity for nearly three years. Now, as Hong Kong is gradually returning back to the world stage, its young backpackers are eager to travel again.
The best way to know a place is to go there, talk to people there, make friends, and try the local food. Hong Kong has been a popular tourists’ city for many years. Maybe it is time for the government to think outside of the box as to how to provide an attractive scheme for youngsters to explore the Greater Bay Area.
William Xu has been covering political and metro news for China Daily since 2020. He is also keen to discover lifestyles and trends in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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