Published: 00:27, November 4, 2022 | Updated: 10:33, November 4, 2022
Hong Kong’s economy can be revived by attracting overseas talents
By Ronald Ng

As of Oct 23, 12 days before the Rugby Sevens in Hong Kong, plenty of tickets were still available, whereas the Singapore Grand Prix 2022, from Sept 30 to Oct 2, drew a record number of 320,000 spectators, many of whom were tourists. The latest figure I could obtain on the number of people arriving at Changi Airport is that of August. 

That month, there were some 3.32 million arrivals, or about 107,500 a day. As for Hong Kong, the average daily arrival in September was 3,500, and after the “0+3” policy was implemented in late September, it rose slightly in October to 5,500 a day. Clearly, more needs to be done to attract tourists.

There are plans to give 500,000 free airline tickets to foreigners to come to Hong Kong. That might help a bit, but clearly judging by the Singapore figures, perhaps an early implementation of the “0+0” policy is required.

I wrote in this column a month ago on the requirement in the Health Declaration form to use a local Hong Kong phone number, and that would deter those without Hong Kong connections from coming to Hong Kong. I am happy to say that a check on the form recently showed that overseas mobile phone numbers can now be used.

In his first Policy Address, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu mentioned, quite rightly, that Hong Kong must attract talents, just as Singapore has been doing for years, to make and keep the economy in a tiptop competitive state. The recent overtaking by Singapore of Hong Kong’s status as the premiere financial center in Asia must have shocked many not only in Hong Kong but also on the Chinese mainland.

In order to achieve that objective of attracting overseas talents, Singapore has the Overseas Networks and Expertise Pass, designed to attract top talents in business, arts and culture, sports, science and technology, and academia and research. Note it is not just in business, but includes sports, the arts and academia. There is a requirement that the person must be earning or will be earning at least S$30,000 ($21,260) a month; that requirement could be waived for outstanding individuals in the arts, sports, science and technology. The duration of the pass is for five years, and could be renewed.

Hong Kong has the Top Talent Pass Scheme to attract foreign talents. The requirements include the person being a graduate of the top 100 universities in the world, and earning an annual salary of more than HK$2.5 million ($318,500), which is more than that required in Singapore. Further, the pass is valid for two years — less than the five years’ validity of the pass in Singapore.

Does simply having a plan such as the Top Talent Pass Scheme attract the necessary talents? I think that’s only the first step. In any planning exercise, it is beneficial to actually mentally walk through the exercise from the point of view of the party to whom that exercise is meant. Chances are, a person who is already in that high-income bracket is married with children. Will he come simply because of the conditions there? What about his wife? If his wife has a career of her own, and would like to continue her career, does that plan cater to that? Notice that in Singapore’s plan, the spouse of the applicant is free to work. He will have to think of the education of his children. With the recent massive exodus of teachers from Hong Kong, particularly the expat community, are Hong Kong’s various international schools ready to accept more students?

When it comes to the possibility of attracting the Chinese diaspora to Hong Kong, including former Hong Kong residents with Hong Kong ID cards but with foreign passports, they might worry about their status. In Singapore, it is very clear: Nationality is determined by the passport one holds. Even when an ethnic Chinese of foreign nationality as defined by the passport he holds, and he holds a Singapore ID card, he is a foreigner, with all the rights of requesting consular assistance in the event of any mishaps. Does an ethnic Chinese with a foreign passport and Hong Kong ID card because he was born in Hong Kong have the same right? These questions, though they might seem theoretical, might weigh on some of them and deter them from coming back to Hong Kong.

Finally, one other avenue for the attraction of what I might call future talents, has not been explored. I know of two young people whose educations were funded by scholarships by the Singapore government for one of them to study in a secondary school, and another in a top program at the National University of Singapore. These are long-term plans. I learned from them that the Singapore government has teams of people going to India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia … and interviewing bright young people and giving them scholarships to come to Singapore. They are bonded for a number of years after graduation to work in Singapore. These young people, spending the growing years of their lives in Singapore, will most likely settle down and marry a local person, thus adding to the pool of high-IQ and highly educated people in Singapore.

The author is a physician by training, and a specialist in hematology who works in Singapore.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.