HK to bring in tech talent faster

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Bringing up “innovation and technology” day and night, the government now welcomes IT talent onboard to co-build Hong Kong into a smart city, but some doubt if the scheme can deliver the tech talent it promises.

The Innovation and Technology Commission rolled out the Technology Talent Admission Scheme (TechTAS) last week, a fast-track arrangement for IT firms to recruit from overseas and mainland China faster to support their R&D.

Under the three-year pilot scheme, eligible companies are limited to those at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTPC) and Hong Kong Cyberport Management Company Limited (Cyberport) that are engaged in the areas of biotechnology, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, robotics, data analytics, financial technologies and material science.

Devil in the detail

Companies should first apply for a quota, then sponsor eligible persons accordingly. Those with a Bachelor’s degree should have one year of work experience, and those with a Master’s or Doctoral degree need no work experience.

To ensure equal job opportunities for local talent, the scheme requires employers to hire one local new full-time employee and two new local interns for every three non-local IT staffers they recruit.

IT firms should also demonstrate at the quota application stage that the technology talent sought is short in supply or not readily available in Hong Kong.

And to make immigration faster, IT firms are not required to demonstrate local recruitment failure every time they seek to bring in talent.

Getting the work visa for these eligible people should not take longer than two weeks, ideally, says the Commission.

This is another effort by the government to attract more talent to the city, on top of the other existing schemes such as the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme and the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals.

It is also in line with Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s Policy Address last year wherein she promised to increase resources for R&D and improve access to the global IT talent pool.

The scheme goes some way to respond to the IT industry’s complaints about their difficulty in hiring the right people to drive complex projects forward

“The IT industry has always been troubled by the lack of talent,” said Jacob Wai, Research Director in Asia Financial Risk Think Tank, at a seminar on how the Budget could help the IT industry last month. “There are not many [of the right kind of] people in Hong Kong. The education here does very little to encourage students to go into technology.”

But the Federation of Hong Kong and Kowloon Labour Unions (FLU) expressed its concern that the new fast-track scheme may hurt the local talent, as jobs would be taken away by those from overseas and mainland China.

“There are already similar admission schemes in place and they have brought in nearly 10,000 tech people to Hong Kong,” said Lam Chun-sing, chairman of the FLU. “There’s no lack of ways to attract IT talent. This is all for importing more labour only.”

The FLU criticized the scheme, claiming it will only make it harder for local graduates who apply for junior positions, as the requirements for the non-local employees are low. The non-locals are also often paid lower than the average market rate, which will affect the pay rise of the local junior employees. The federation urged the government to prioritize local IT talent.

IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok also said most IT firms will not benefit from the scheme as they are not located in the Science Park or Cyberport.

Financial secretary Paul Chan Mo-po dismissed such claims, arguing that this will benefit the industry as it will only bolster the tech sector and encourage more local people to join the sector.

“Inclusion and openness are what makes Hong Kong successful. We should only look at what skills the person has, rather than his country of origin,” said Chan.

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