Applicants to Hong Kong’s new talent scheme do not need to declare their criminal history, an official has said. His comment came after a controversial scientist who produced genetically edited babies and was jailed in mainland China for violating medical regulations had his application approved.

Chris Sun
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

He Jiankui, who was sentenced to three years in jail and fined RMB 3 million (HK$3.42 million) for illegally “gene-editing” babies in mainland China, told Ming Pao on Monday that his application under Hong Kong’s new talent attraction scheme had been approved.

The Top Talent Pass Scheme, introduced in Chief Executive John Lee’s maiden Policy Address, allows high-earners and recent graduates from the world’s top 100 universities with some work experience to obtain a two-year visa without first having to secure a job offer.

When asked about He on Tuesday, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun told reporters it was “not appropriate” for him to comment on individual cases.

But the official admitted that the new talent attraction scheme does not require applicants to submit their criminal offence histories. However, the Top Talent Pass Scheme webpage states that applicants must have “no known record of serious crime” to be eligible for the visa.

He Jiankui
Chinese scientist He Jiankui speaks at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong on November 28, 2018. File photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP.

“From time to time, we will review the Top Talent Pass Scheme’s application procedures and the information required upon applicants, and make adjustments every now and then,” Sun said.

Sun said the authorities would “of course” see applications as invalid if there were any discrepancies with facts or false statements.

“At last I want to emphasise, to enter the border of Hong Kong, the last gatekeeper is the Director of Immigration,” the labour and welfare minister said. The head of the Immigration Department could revoke visas and re-evaluate a candidate’s eligibility for the scheme, Sun added.

‘More open and inclusive’

Meeting the press in Beijing on Tuesday afternoon, He said he had filed his application in early February and it was granted a week later.

“My research will abide by ethics and morals, as well as the international scientific consensus,” he said, adding that he had no plans to live in Hong Kong and was aiming to explore opportunities for cooperation and jobs in the city via the new talent attraction scheme.

Hong Kong Govt press meeting on competing for talents
Top officials in Hong Kong meet the press on December 23 to introduce their plans to attract overseas talents and companies. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“I think Hong Kong is more open and inclusive, with a booming economy. I am quite optimistic about Hong Kong’s future,” He said when speaking to Now News earlier on Tuesday. He told the outlet he hoped to work in the field of rare diseases.

He added that he thought Hong Kong was advanced in science and technology. “Hong Kong is very advantageous in the cutting edge field of the genetic treatment on rare diseases and brings a bright prospect on its industrialisation,” he said.

The biophysicist added that he has started contacting related institutions, universities and companies but does not have a schedule for when he will come to the city.

After He was released from prison last April, he set up a laboratory in Beijing and carried on researching the possibility for gene editing to work as a therapy for rare diseases.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.