Hong Kong’s non-pro-establishment parties have criticised leader John Lee’s talent attraction strategies proposed in his Policy Address, saying the government should nurture talent locally and address the root cause of the city’s exodus.

Tik Chi-yuen policy address
Lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Tik Chi-yuen, a lawmaker and the chairperson of moderate party Third Side, said Lee had spent ” a lot of time talking about snatching talent.” In his Policy Address given on Wednesday, Lee unveiled a number of schemes – including providing two-year permits for graduates of the world’s top 100 universities – to come to Hong Kong even before securing a job.

“Hong Kong has five universities that are considered in the top 100, meaning that Hong Kong actually has this talent,” Tik said. “But it’s a shame that so much of this talent has left.”

Policies for luring in professionals to work in Hong Kong were among the highlights of Lee’s Policy Address delivered on Wednesday.

john lee policy address
Chief Executive John Lee met the press after announcing his first Policy Address on October 19, 2022. Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

The two-year permits Tik referred to, called the “Top Talent Pass Scheme,” will also target individuals earning salaries of over HK$2 million a year.

Dedicated teams in the Hong Kong government’s offices in the mainland, and overseas, will be set up and tasked with liaising with the world’s top universities and promote Hong Kong as a city where they can develop their careers and settle down, Lee added. 

In addition, Lee also proposed strategies to attract companies – in particular those in fields such as financial technology and data science – to come to Hong Kong. Authorities will launch the Office for Attracting Strategic Enterprises to encourage firms to set up operations in the city with the promise of land and tax incentives.

street central walking economy
A street in Central. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

The policies come amid a population outflow attributed to the city’s political situation and strict Covid-19 rules.

Tik said the government should conduct a “human resources evaluation” across industries to understand the manpower shortage situation in different fields so that universities and other institutions can nurture potential talent.

‘Stop the bleeding’

Lo Kin-hei, the chairperson of the Democratic Party said Lee’s Policy Address lacked plans for retaining local talent. “We believe that… you should work on stopping the bleeding first, which is far easier than drawing in new talents,” he said.

Lo Kin-hei
Lo Kin-hei, the chairperson of the Democratic Party. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

Ramon Yuen, the party’s spokesperson on medical policies, said the administration should identify and address the reasons for Hong Kong’s brain drain before working on attracting talent. “[Are they leaving] because of [a lack of] freedom? Is that because of the pandemic? Or is it because of the geopolitics?” Yuen asked.

Support for Lee’s policies

Pro-establishment lawmakers, on the other hand, described the talent attraction strategies as innovative breakthroughs.

Legislative Councillor Lai Tung-kwok, of the New People’s Party, said Lee’s Policy Address had “responded to mainstream views in society about how to really attract talent.”

Responding to a question from HKFP, Regina Ip, lawmaker and chairperson of the New People’s Party, said Hong Kong remained an attractive destination despite current Covid-19 rules: “In the past few months since [Lee] took over, he has progressively removed a lot of restrictions,” Ip said.

Regina Ip policy address
Lawmaker Regina Ip. Photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

“Even the current so-called ‘0+3’ restrictions, they are unlikely to be long lasting,” she said, referring to the requirement that travellers do not have to undergo hotel quarantine upon arrival but will be restricted from entering restaurants and other premises for the first three days.

“I’m confident that the measures rolled out… will go a long way in boosting Hong Kong’s competitiveness,” Ip added.

According to the Policy Address, the government aims to admit at least 35,000 talented individuals annually through the admission schemes from 2023 to 2025.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.