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Hong Kong has undergone a myriad of upheavals over the past two years, from the anti-extradition bill protest, to the Covid-19 pandemic, to National Security legislation fraying nerves across the city.

Cynthia Chung, a partner and head of the employment and pension practice group at law firm Deacons Hong Kong, weighs in on the impacts on both the Hong Kong and overseas talent market in an interview with Human Resources

Comments on Hong Kong's overall talent market

While we have Covid and social unrest, I would be cautious to say not all industries are adversely affected. There are some industries that have taken advantage of the situation and flourished quite well. 

If you ask me whether I see massive exodus of people, I don’t. I honestly don’t see expats just leaving all of the sudden and all foreign companies closing their Hong Kong offices. Of course there are occasional ones, I am aware of that but I am equally seeing certain industries taking advantage of the situation and coming in to Hong Kong for various reasons, for example, taking advantage of lower rent and cheaper labour. 

Also, companies could be moving out of Hong Kong for various reasons because Hong Kong traditionally is very expensive. There are people moving out of Hong Kong simply because of that, regardless of Covid, regardless of social unrest.  

Unfortunately, the pandemic and social unrest still has some impact, meaning expats have more choices now. If they don’t come to Hong Kong, they can go to somewhere else, such as Singapore, Taiwan, or even mainland China.

Hong Kong used to fill the niche that it has good access and is very user-friendly for people around the world. Now that most people are not able to travel and most of the business are doing what we are doing now – virtually – it doesn’t matter where employees are located.

How can Hong Kong remain competitive?

There are big opportunities in mainland China and in the proximity of mainland China to Hong Kong. It has been quite clear that China is still very supportive of the economy in Hong Kong. Our prediction is that there will be a lot more companies still wanting to come to Hong Kong.

Is the bar higher for expats wanting to come to Hong Kong?

No, it’s not. In fact, immigration has been quite accommodating. In the course of last year, because of the travel restrictions, people who moved outside could not come back to extend their Hong Kong visa. But recently, the immigration department has loosened their policy. They have actually allowed extensions to be done outside of Hong Kong. So immigration policy has not been tough on expats. In fact, they want people to continue to stay here. 

What are the top trends in 2021?

  • Tech companies coming to Hong Kong
  • Tech-savvy people are needed
  • The IT industry will continue to flourish
  • Jobs do not need a physical presence
  • The construction sector is blooming

What are the challenges HR might encounter for overseas recruitment?

There are always challenges. Even before Covid, I think there were some challenges in convincing people to come to Hong Kong rather than other areas. Employees agreeing to come to Hong Kong were a bit worried about the unstable political environment in 2019. So, many postponed their entrance to the city.

With Covid, we are really on equal footing with other parts of the world. Hong Kong has been doing quite well in terms of dealing with Covid and the flexibility companies are offering staff.

But certainly, due to the political unrest and uncertainties of some of our new laws, HR might be worried how they are going to convince people to come to Hong Kong. For example: Are they (expats) going to easily tread on the NSL (National Security Law)?

The new law has brought up some challenges but people knowing it probably would know that in reality it's not a very scary thing. It sounds a bit scary because we never had it previously. But looking at the US and other parts of the world, it's not something so uncommon anymore. So why would the risk in Hong Kong be higher than other countries where they already have something similar to the NSL?

I think it takes time. The challenge for HR is that because they never dealt with it in Hong Kong. Going forward, people will realise that there is not really a big difference between the law and other parts of the world.