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Setting Up a Business in Hong Kong: Business Visa Requirements

Hong Kong Immigration, Visa, choose a category.....

Need to apply for a work visa in Hong Kong? We can help. We offer a free consultation, E-MAIL US anytime, or call +852 8197 0550 Fees are fixed and agreed in advance.

We do not ask for advance payment from established Hong Kong registered companies.

Introduction

Hong Kong's immigration ordinance is surprising in as much that there aren't that many categories for people to qualify under, unlike other developed countries in the world. Similarly the requirements are not documented as extensively as other destinations. As a result Hong Kong immigration officers have a broad range on how they interpret a particular situation within an application, resulting in what some may consider as inconsistent decision-making. However in reality no two applications are the same, but may have some similarities. The fact remains that each application for an immigration work visa in HK will be assessed on its own merits.

To follow is a brief summary of each category high-lighting the key elements of each type of business visa in Hong Kong. If you have any questions at all feel free to CONTACT US or go to our blog, Establish Hong Kong.

Start a Business, or more formally known as:-

Hong Kong Investment Visa (Establish or join a Hong Kong Company)

The difference between these and employment visas for new entities is if the applicant is holding around 25% or more in shares. The applicant must possess the necessary skills and experience to benefit the company. Being a major shareholder doesn't give the applicant an automatic right to live and work in Hong Kong. The company must demonstrate that the new entity is potentially viable and the parent or overseas company or individual is capable of supporting the new venture. Also the generation of local employment, there is a need or niche for the business and that other Hong Kong Companies, both supplies and clients will benefit. Another favourite is to demonstrate what immigration describes as "a significant contribution to Hong Kong". This statement is intentionally vague and open to interpretation. An essential part of these applications is to provide Hong Kong immigration with a detailed business plan and cash flow forecast for the first year and beyond. The criterion for this type of visa hasn't changed, but the interpretation has, significantly, as a result of a growing economy.

Invest $10 million HK Dollars, or more formally known as:-

Capital Investment Entrant Scheme, or "CIES"

The Government has announced that as of the 14th October 2010 the threshold for investment under CIES has been raised to $10 million Hong Kong dollars. Furthermore, real estate is temporarily been suspended as a permissible asset under the scheme.
The investment threshold (Net asset/equity requirement) will be reviewed every three years. The temporary suspension of real estate as a permissible investment asset (PIA) will also be assessed at the next review, or earlier as considered necessary.

The options are, stock, equities or debt securities (from an approved eligible list) or a combination of the qualifying criteria. The applicant must be able to demonstrate the net value of the portfolio is at least $10 million HKD and have had the funds for two years prior to the application. "Approval in principle" is granted for six months after the applicant's portfolio has been confirmed by HK immigration to be in excess of $10 million HK net to make the appropriate investment. Those choosing to invest in stock, equities or debt securities will need to appoint a financial intermediary to manage the investment portfolio on their behalf.   Once the investment is confirmed by Hong Kong immigration a visa for two years will be issued to the applicant and any qualifying dependents which can be extended. The category is one that leads to residency in Hong Kong after seven years. Unlike other categories that lead to residency (Unconditional Stay) the applicant doesn't have to spend seven years continuously in Hong Kong  to qualify, but must maintain the investment throughout the seven year period.

Free consultation, E-MAIL US anytime, or call +852 8197 0550 Fees are fixed and agreed in advance.

Hong Kong Work Visa

As a heading this covers a range of particular applications for business immigration to Hong Kong, for example, Intra-company transfer, new hire, training, investment. There are three areas that need to be addressed, the sponsoring company, the applicant and the vacancy. Where it starts to get potentially complicated is how long the sponsoring Hong Kong company has been around and how well established, also if the applicant will be a shareholder and or Director of the company. Is it a genuine vacancy and what attempts the company has made to fill the vacancy locally.

For companies or individuals looking to work in Hong Kong this can be particularly challenging. Visas for these situations would most likely be referred to as Investment Visas, but are still know as Employment Visas. The burden of proof falls heavily on the applicant and the sponsoring/supporting company. It's a bureaucratic version of “show and tell”, supporting documents are essential, if not provided then the claim will largely be discounted.

New Hire Employment Visa

The above would apply with the exception of the shareholding to new companies. In addition for existing companies they need to demonstrate that the position has been made available to the resident labour force. The position is of a managerial or supervisory nature. This is normally done by advertising in a publication readily assessable to everyone. Specific publications available for example by subscription is not considered a test. Keep a summary of the recruitment process.

Intra-Company Transfer Visa

The sponsoring company still needs to demonstrate that a genuine vacancy exists and is of a managerial or supervisory nature. This in turn is supported by the level of compensation and benefits being paid to the secondee. The advertising requirement is waived for these Hong Kong company visa applications.

Training Visa

The duration of these is dependent on the length of the program along with other qualifying criteria. As a general rule six months with a possible short extension is possible. Any longer would be dependent on the training leading towards a professional qualification. As always proof will be required. Once the training has been completed the applicant must leave Hong Kong, switching into an employment visa is not possible.

Dependent Visa

Employment visa holders can bring their spouses and children under the age of eighteen. We would recommend that these be applied for at the same time as the main applicant. Your spouse can work, set up business, children under 18 can study without further permission from the Director of Immigration.

However, dependent visa holders of student visas are NOT able to do any of the above. They must qualify in their own right and secure permission from the Director of Immigration.

Free consultation, E-MAIL US anytime, or call +852 8197 0550 Fees are fixed and agreed in advance.

Mainland Chinese, Talent & Professional Scheme

Chinese Citizens from the Mainland are subject to broadly the same immigration control in Hong Kong as foreign nationals. They have no automatic right to take up employment or work for their own Hong Kong Company.  However, Chinese Nationals who have been resident abroad for at least twelve months can apply under the Hong Kong Immigration main scheme.  Mainland Chinese graduates who have been studying in Hong Kong, successfully completed their courses, been offered suitable positions by established companies can apply under main scheme. However, they must meet the same criteria as other employment visa applicants. Given their lack of employment experience, the best they can expect will be a training visa that requires them to leave Hong Kong at the end of the training.

The scheme is specifically for Mainland Chinese residents who have unique skills that will benefit Hong Kong companies and what is described by the Immigration Department as a “significant contribution to Hong Kong”.  The criterion is exactly the same as employing a foreign national. However, more attention is paid to academic and personal background.

Hong Kong Travel Pass

This is a pro-longed visit visa for business people travelling frequently to Hong Kong on business. Benefiting visa free nationals granted less than 60 days on entry, has no adverse previous history with HK immigration and visited Hong Kong at least three times during the last year; excluding "side trips" to mainland China or Macau may apply. The applicant must be able to demonstrate they are employed abroad and continue to be should the application be successful. Be able to prove there is a genuine business reasons for them to travel to HK on a regular basis. Also that there is a "significant contribution to Hong Kong" as a result of the visits made by the holder. Benefits included less scrutiny from immigration officials on arrival and use of the "Residents" channel, allowing for quicker clearance and a two to three month period of stay in Hong Kong. There is a non-refundable application fee for the Hong Kong Travel Pass. The Travel Pass is similar to a credit card in appearance and normally valid for three years from date of issue. The process is similar to an Employment Entry Visa. However the Travel Pass is a visit visa and does not allow you to work. Also the category is not one that leads to residency or more formally "Right of Abode" in Hong Kong.

APEC Travel Pass

This card is for Permanent residents of Hong Kong who need to travel frequently for short periods of time to other APEC members. The card is valid for three years with multiple visits of up to two or three months to other participating members of the scheme. Card holders can enjoy streamlined immigration procedures at special control points whether pre-clearance has been obtained or not. Members included but not limited to are Australia, Mainland China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and others.

Visit Visa

Depending on your nationality or the type of travel document you hold, normally a passport, you may not need a visa to enter Hong Kong. However, the immigration authorities have the right to refuse entry if they believe your intentions aren't genuine. Furthermore, the published period of time allowed is the maximum time available. Immigration can curtail/reduce the period should they feel there is justification. There is no automatic right to enter Hong Kong or to the maximum period of stay available.

For those individuals that require visas before they can enter Hong Kong, an application has to be made through their nearest Chinese Embassy or Consulate. Alternatively direct to the Hong Kong Immigration Department or through their local sponsor. Two forms are required to be completed, ID1003A for the applicant and ID1003B for the sponsor, both are available from the HKID website. Other supporting documents will be required depending on whether your visit is for business or pleasure.

Procesing time is approximately four weeks from the time the application is received. Applications can be sent by fax to shorten the process, but any visa will not be issued until the original documentation and photographs are received by the Immigration Department.

The day you arrive counts as your first day, so becareful you don't overstay! Extensions are only granted under exceptional circumstances.

Frequent Visitor Card

The Hong Kong Airport Authority offer a "Frequent Visitor Card" for travellers who have visited Hong Kong at least three times during the last twelve months with no adverse immigration history. The card is issued for 2 years, is renewable and the holders are able to use the "E" Channel service once enrolled and it's FREE!

Quality Migrant Admission Scheme, or "QMAS"

This scheme is to attract highly skilled individuals. Its quota based on a point's scheme, you can be assessed under the general point’s scheme or the achievement scheme, scoring on age, qualifications, experience, language and family background. The Immigration Department will also be looking to see how your application will "Enhance Hong Kong’s economic competitiveness in the global market". Not forgetting your ability to support financially and accommodate yourself and any dependents. Scores are ranked and short listed for further assessment. An advisory panel will also take into account the socio-economic needs of Hong Kong and other relevant factors. Their findings will be passed onto the Director of Immigration when considering applcations. High scores don’t necessarily secure a place on the allotted quota. Successful candidates will be issued an "approval in principal " and invited to Hong Kong for interview and document verification. Those who pass that process will have their entry visa granted. Applications under QMAS do not require a Hong Kong sponsor.

Unmarried (De facto) Partners

Hong Kong does operate a discretionary policy for those living in a relationship akin to marriage for at least one year. The sponsor needs to be able to demonstrate they can support and accommodate the applicant. A great deal of documentary evidence is required for these applications. The visa granted is known as a pro-longed visitor, multiple entry visa and is granted for six months. Hong Kong immigration historically doesn't recognise same sex relationships. However immigration has told us they will consider same sex applications. Processing time is normally twelve weeks, but can take longer depending on the circumstances. Also bear in mind the applicant (partner) cannot work.

Free consultation, E-MAIL US anytime, or call +852 8197 0550 Fees are fixed and agreed in advance.

Marriage Visa

The burden falls on the HK resident who will act as sponsor for foreign husband or wife. Immigration will look to see if it is a genuine relationship and that the sponsor can support and accommodate the applicant. Spouses whose sponsor isn't a Hong Kong permanent resident will have their visa issued "in-line" with their sponsor. The same applies to any extensions; also time towards permanent residency accumulates from the endorsement of the first visa. For those married to permanent residents, visas will be issued for one year, then two, two and three years respectively. After seven years they can apply for permanent residency or "right of abode" to use the technical term. Spouses can also work; set up business or study without obtaining further permission from the Director of immigration.

Sponsorship

With the occasional exception, everybody entering Hong Kong needs a sponsor; the responsibility of the sponsor is twofold. Firstly in the event the visa holder is required to leave Hong Kong for whatever reason and the visa holder doesn't have the funds, the sponsor will pay the costs to the nominated destination stated on the sponsorship form they signed. Secondly the sponsor is to notify the Director of Immigration of changes in the visa holder’s status. For example changes their employment, starts a business, gets married or leaves Hong Kong.

Where the difference lies is in the liability. For an employment visa, the form will be signed by an authorised individual employed by the company and is a permanent resident of Hong Kong. But it is the company that's responsible for the visa holder’s actions, not the member of staff who signed the form. However, visa holders who have started their own business or got married for example, the liability is with the individual sponsor (also a permanent resident of Hong Kong) who signed the form and the responsibility lies with them alone.

Student Visa

The criteria is very simple, a recognised course at a reputable institution, you have been accepted, paid the course fees and able to support and accommodate yourself while you study. The visa will be issued for the duration of the course. For any extensions, attendance may be checked and that you are making progress. Also consider that the course is readily available in your home country can be an issue.

Permanent Residency (ROA)

If you plan to be in Hong Kong after seven years, an application for Right of Abode (ROA) can be made, or more generally referred to as Permanent Residency. Employment is the most common route that people qualify under. The seven years must be continuous with no gaps greater than six months and continue to maintain a presence in Hong Kong. Proof goes way beyond the evidence in your passports covering the period. So make sure you keep as much paperwork as you can, particularly, Tax Returns, Tenancy Agreements, bank statements. Once granted you can leave Hong Kong and return free of any visa requirements for up to three years. If you should return after three years you will be granted “Right to Land” which is still a form of residency but you lose your voting rights. The good news is that if you want to start a business for example that is unrelated to your background, now you can.

Hong Kong ID cards

Visas issued to those aged 11 and over that lead to residency (with the exception of domestic maids) and spend more than 180 days in Hong Kong are required that within 30 days of arrival obtain an ID card. You can book an appointment on-line see Government Links.... below "HK Gov Info for Residents". Alternatively there is a “walk in” daily quota, just get there early. The first card is paper and issued when you apply, you exchange this for a credit card sized plastic photo ID two weeks later. The card has a "smart chip" embedded in it. This enables you to use the "e-channel" when passing through Hong Kong immigration. Also other HK specific on-line services, you can get more information at the Post Office. You are required to carry the card at all times and present to the police or immigration official on demand. You will also be asked to produce the card particularly at the bank, or when opening accounts for things like mobile phones.

Visa extensions and processing times

Staying with the same employer, visas are issued for one year then two years, another two years and finally three years. Visas extensions can be applied for one month before expiring with the applicant in Hong Kong. Immigration has recently introduced an appointment system for extensions if you’re an existing visa holder. There is a daily "walk-in" quota but it does get used up quickly, so get there early if you haven’t booked in advance. After seven years continuous residence you can apply for permanent residency in HK. Generally "Entry Visas" take around six weeks to process and are valid for 90 days from date of issue. Unmarried partners can be up to twelve weeks to conclude. Extensions are generally two weeks from start to finish.

Free consultation, E-MAIL US anytime, or call +852 8197 0550 Fees are fixed and agreed in advance.

 

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