The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has separate immigration regimes for the jurisdictions of Mainland China, Hong Kong (HK), and Macau. This article is about the immigration requirements for U.S. business executives and professionals seeking to reside in HK through employment or investment. U.S. nationals are subject to the same immigration requirements as any other foreign nationals. The only nationality with different immigration requirements is Mainland China nationals. In line with the Beijing government’s emigration policy, additional requirements are imposed on potential Mainland China business executives and professionals applying for the visas discussed below. This article will not discuss these additional requirements.
Be aware that for each of the visas discussed below, there is usually an unexpected twist. Each visa’s requirements contain something a potential applicant would not normally expect. They can be more complicated than one thinks.
Sources of Hong Kong Immigration Requirements
The usual sources of immigration law, the “Basic Law” and the Immigration Ordinance, do not provide much information on the various types of visas discussed in this article. Instead, the visa requirements are found under the HK Immigration Department’s Policy Guidelines. The guidelines are available from HKID’s website (www.immd.gov.hk).
Visas Available to Business Executives and Professionals
This visa is for business executives and professionals entering employment in HK. A successful applicant must first secure a job offer in HK, coupled with a satisfactory demonstration that he or she possesses qualifications and skills not otherwise available in HK. This can be demonstrated through an unsuccessful newspaper attempt for recruitment by the HK employer.
This visa is for an entrepreneur incorporating his or her own company and setting up business in HK. The proposed project must bring about significant economic benefit to HK, as well as create job opportunities for HK residents. Whereas setting up a limited company in HK is very straightforward, the investment visa is not easy to obtain. A successful applicant is usually a person who has already demonstrated an impressive entrepreneurial track record in his or her home country.
This visa is for a person investing at least HK$10 million (about US$1.3 million) in HK-based assets (other than real property). The successful applicant can seek employment in HK. This is an alternative way for an applicant who wishes to work in HK but does not qualify for an Employment visa. The applicant must prove that he or she has already possessed the HK$10 million for at least two years before applying for the visa. If the applicant wishes to become an HK permanent resident (HKPR), his or her investment must not fall below HK$10 million at any point in time after making the investment, until that person becomes an HKPR. Otherwise, he or she will be out of status and must leave HK. This is normally regarded as at least seven years after the applicant makes the HK$10 million investment.
Quality Migrant Admission Scheme
This visa scheme awards points to an applicant based on his or her achievements, or under a points test made up of the applicant’s education qualifications, age, work experience, and fluency in English and Chinese. Unlike the Employment visa, there is no need to secure a job offer in HK before making the application. The applicant who passes the points test is then referred to a Steering Committee that will make the final judgment. This makes the results very unpredictable because the committee does not publish its assessment criteria. There is no way to find out these criteria. In short, this scheme may be a lot more difficult to carry out than the requirements for the Employment visa.
This visa is for the spouse and unmarried children under the age of 18 of the principal applicant. The unusual feature of this visa is that the spouse is permitted to seek employment in HK without going through the vigorous assessment exercise under the Employment visa. As long as the nature of employment is legal, the dependent can enter employment and change jobs as often as he or she wishes.
As its name suggests, this visa is for a person seeking a full-time qualification from an HK tertiary institution. It should be noted that the HK government commenced a new immigration scheme three years ago. Foreign graduates from universities funded by the HK government are eligible to apply for a one-year residence visa after they graduate. This allows them to live in HK even if they have not secured employment.
Article 24 of the HK Basic Law defines an HKPR. For U.S. nationals, the relevant subarticle is 24(4). This provides for, in essence, a person who has continuously resided in HK for at least seven years after securing one of the visas discussed above. The word “resided” is not defined. HKID advises that in each of the seven years, the applicant should be physically residing in HK for at least 9 of the 12 months.
Unsuccessful applicants are not charged any fees. Each successful applicant is charged about US$20. This makes an HK visa application very affordable. One may be concerned whether an unsuccessful application may jeopardize future applications. This is not the case, unless HKID rejects an application because it finds out that the applicant is using false information or documents.
Contingency Legal Fees
There is no need to hire a law firm to represent a visa applicant. If a firm is hired, fees may be charged on a contingency basis. In other words, a successful application will attract more fees. A contingency fee is not allowed in HK if the legal representation concerns any contentious proceedings. Since an application for any visa discussed in this article is not a contentious proceeding, the representing law firm is entitled to charge a contingency fee.
HKID advises that it takes 8 to 12 weeks to process an application, after all the supporting documents have been received.
A successful visa application is usually for one year’s duration. Subsequent renewals are usually for two years, two years, and three years thereafter, respectively.