Applicants to Hong Kong’s talent attraction schemes must declare any criminal history, the Immigration Department has said. The announcement came after a controversial Chinese scientist who was jailed over gene-editing babies was granted a visa under a new admission scheme, only for it to be revoked days later.

Foreign domestic workers in Central on January 22, 2023. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The department said on Sunday that it would start requiring applicants of several of the city’s talent admission schemes – including the general work visa, one that targets those in the tech industry, and the admission scheme for mainland Chinese professionals – to declare any prior criminal convictions from Monday.

Late on Sunday night, the immigration authority released a second statement clarifying that migrant domestic workers’ applications would not be affected.

Thomas Chan Tung-fung, chairperson of the Hong Kong Union of Employment Agencies, told Commercial Radio on Monday morning that the union’s members had been told differently last week.

According to Chan, staff at different migrant domestic worker employment agencies had been reminded to ask new applicants to declare their criminal histories when visiting the Immigration Department last Thursday and Friday.

Chan also said that agencies had been told to hand out declaration forms to companies in the Philippines and Indonesia for incoming migrant domestic workers to fill in before their arrival.

Immigration Department. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The union leader said it was not the first time the authorities had U-turned on foreign domestic worker policies.

He said he thought the government’s final decision was based on considerations that foreign domestic workers were not permitted to become permanent Hong Kong residents.

“Politically they have no voting rights, economically they cannot enjoy any social welfare… as there is such a difference in identity, is it necessary for equally strict background checks?” Chan asked.

Chan added that no major problems had emerged despite migrant domestic workers not being required to declare their criminal histories for the past 40 to 50 years.

U-turn on criminal checks

The lack of a criminal record check for Hong Kong visas came to light last week with the news that controversial scientist He Jiankui had successfully applied through Hong Kong’s Top Talent Pass Scheme.

Hours after the city’s labour minister confirmed that criminal checks were not required for the new talent attraction scheme, the authorities voided the biophysicist’s visa on suspicion of “false statements” and launched criminal investigations.

Top officials in Hong Kong meet the press on December 23 to introduce their plans to attract overseas talents and companies. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The government then started to require all applicants of the Top Talent Pass scheme to declare their previous criminal convictions last Wednesday.

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Peter Lee

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.