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Since 1997 it has gradually been getting more difficult for foreigners to get work visas in Hong Kong. This trend may be partly because of the change of rule from British to Chinese, and it is certainly because of the changes in the economy. For the first time in decades, unemployment is a concern in Hong Kong that affects the government’s openness to foreign workers. 

Even so, it is still absolutely possible to get a work visa in Hong Kong as long as you can identify your specific place in the marketplace and prove your value to the Hong Kong Immigration Department. You may need to find a certain spin to make your application attractive, and you can certainly benefit from support both professional and friendly. This article focuses on the so-called investment visa category for those who wish to run their own businesses or work as freelancers. This type of visa would give you the maximum amount of freedom to do business in Hong Kong. This visa would suit those planning to establish themselves independently in Hong Kong, or those joining a spouse who is already working. 

What the Immigration Department Wants 

The Immigration Department is looking for evidence that your business: 

  1. is viable and will not fail or go bankrupt 
  2. contributes ‘significantly’ to Hong Kong’s economy 
  3. adds something special to Hong Kong (e.g. it does not take jobs from Hong Kong people, it adds something needed in the marketplace, it contributes something desirable to other Hong Kong businesses) 

In your visa application, you’ll want to include ‘proof’ that you meet these three requirements. Obviously there is a lot of room for interpretation and you can be creative as you think of ways that you and your business meet these requirements. Here are a few examples of how people I know have met these requirements. 

Examples of Successful Cases: 

Specialized Professional Services 

In 2000 I applied for an investment visa for my own company so that I could provide business and career coaching in Hong Kong. As a generally cautious person, I was quite concerned about being turned down for the visa. I was very keen on starting this business and I didn’t have an attractive plan B. I felt my chances of success would be hampered by the fact that I was planning to work from home and there was a low likelihood of my company ever being a significant employer. Despite those disadvantages, my proposal also had several highlights to make it attractive to the Immigration Department. I was planning a progressive service business with distinctive training requirements that were not at all common in Hong Kong at the time. I had substantial savings and therefore significant capital to support the business. Since I was already well connected in Hong Kong, I could provide references from locals who pointed out the potential for my business and their intention to work with me. 

Believe me, I was full of doubt and felt afraid of the consequences if I could not secure the visa. At certain times I was so relieved to speak to a few people who had trodden the path before me successfully, even with less going for them than I felt I had. Sometimes a little encouragement and positive thinking is all we need to carry on down a difficult road. 

Small Trading Company 

One of those people who encouraged me had recently started a small trading company dealing in specialty low-value products between China and Holland.His disadvantages were quite opposite to mine. He had low capital investment, no higher education and he was trading in low profile, ‘cheap’ products. However, he was persistent in leveraging the advantages that he had. In particular he emphasized the language skills and relationships with Dutch customers that made his business possible and which could not be easily replaced in Hong Kong. He also demonstrated his very open attitude by providing masses of paperwork to show sincerity and establish trust with the Immigration Departments. His partnership with another businessman showed that he had local knowledge, connections and potential for the company to grow and employ locals. 

Small Computer Services Company 

Another friend started a small computer service business in 1999 and had quite a bit of trouble maintaining her work visa, although in the end she was successful. Her business must have been at the lower limit of what the Immigration Department would accept. She was operating a home-based sole-proprietorship and was relatively cash poor. She was however very highly technically qualified. Each time she had to renew her visa, every year or so, she was asked to provide more documentation to prove the viability of her company. Every other business owner I’ve spoken to about visas shared the experience that once the visa was issued, annual or bi-annual renewals were very simple. However, she did manage to maintain the visa until she received permanent residency at last. 

These anecdotes demonstrate the value of having your Investment Visa Application be backed up by a well-thought out and well-documented Business Plan that clearly demonstrates how you bring extra value to Hong Kong. Remember, the Immigration Department Officials want to document their own decisions with concrete evidence so that it cannot be said that they made a mistake. Give them what they want! 

Here are somethings to include: 

  • Reference letters from existing Hong Kong businesses that support or collaborate with yours. 
  • Letters of intent from potential customers or suppliers. 
  • Degrees, certificates, diplomas and awards, even if not directly relevant. 
  • Records of your business to date such as financial records, customer lists etc. 
  • Business projections and plans for sales, staffing, profits, investments etc. 
  • Media reports supporting your business’s growth potential 

Most importantly, you must be able to describe what makes you and your business special in Hong Kong so that the Immigration Department can understand the value you bring. Apart from attaining your visa, knowing your business’s value is also a key step to marketing, building and growing a successful business.

For assistance in securing a business visa, please contact one of Hong Kong’s business immigration consultancies such as EmigraAsia at www.emigra.com.hk or Dearson Winyard International at www.dwiglobal.com.