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Hong Kong leader unveils plans to offset brain drain

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Hong Kong, Oct 19: Hong Kong's government will introduce a new visa scheme to woo foreign talent as the Chinese special administrative region fights to retain its status as an international financial hub, its chief executive, John Lee, said on Wednesday.

The announcement in Lee's long maiden policy address comes as hundreds of thousands of residents have left the Chinese-ruled city in recent years, driven away partly by the prospect of ever-diminishing freedoms under a Beijing-imposed national security law.

Hong Kong leader unveils plans to offset brain drain

What did Lee say?

"We must be more proactive and aggressive in competing for enterprises and competing for talent,'' Lee said. "Apart from actively nurturing and retaining local talent, the government will proactively trawl the world for talent.''

As part of this project, Lee announced the so-called "Top Talent Pass Scheme."

Under the scheme, those earning an annual salary of 2.5 million Hong Kong dollars (€323,883; $318,473) or more will be able to work or pursue opportunities in the city for two years, Lee said. Graduates from the world's top universities will also enjoy the same easing of visa requirements.

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Lee also announced several other proposals, including tax rebates and rules making it easier for companies to hire foreigners.

Government statistics in August showed that the city's population had dropped 1.6% in mid-2022 from a year earlier, meaning 113,200 residents had left in that period alone.

Besides the growing political clampdown on dissent steered by Beijing, the restrictive coronavirus policies that have been in place in the city have also prompted many residents to depart.

Last month, Singapore overtook Hong Kong in a ranking of global financial centers last month. It, too, has announced a new visa that allowing skilled foreign high-earners to work for several firms at the same time.

Emphasis on national security

Lee, a former deputy police commissioner, also however pledged to tighten legal controls in the city, even though some Western governments say the erosion of rights and freedoms there has damaged the business climate.

"We will further strengthen the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security," Lee said in his speech, which lasted two hours and 45 minutes.

The proposed new laws would regulate areas including cybersecurity, crowdfunding activities and "false information", he added.

Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 after pro-democracy protests the year. The law has led to the arrest and jailing of many democracy activists or caused them to flee.

Lee himself was sanctioned by the US in 2020 for his role in the clampdown on dissent in the city.

Lee also addressed housing policies in what is the world's most expensive property market.

He pledged to provide enough land to build 72,000 private residential apartments over the next five year.

He said the government would also reduce waiting times for public housing applicants by introducing simpler layouts. Currently, such applicants wait an average of six years.

Who is Lee?

Lee, 64, the former chief secretary of the city from 2021, was elected chief executive in May by a pro-Beijing committee. There were no rival candidates.

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He replaced Carrie Lam in the position on July 1.

As the former deputy police commissioner, he built up a reputation for enforcing strict law and order but has little experience in financial matters.

Source: DW

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