As published on scmp.com, Wednesday 19 April, 2023.
Hong Kong will grant residency to individuals who make significant investment in local companies operating in the field of innovation and technology (I&T) under a revamped immigration scheme set to launch this year, the government has said.
But lawmakers pressed authorities on Wednesday to clearly define which companies would be included in the Capital Investment Entrant Scheme, saying the city did not have any large corporations officially defined as I&T and which could be used as a reference.
Undersecretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Joseph Chan Ho-lim told the Legislative Council the government was in the process of finalising details of the scheme and was considering including asset categories benefiting Hong Kong’s long-term development, such as the I&T sector, in the list of recognised investments.
“[We hope this can] attract more new capital and talent to Hong Kong, bringing new impetus to the economy and fostering the development of industries at the same time,” he said.
In his budget address in February, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced he would relaunch the migration scheme, which was suspended in 2015 after residents complained about an overheating property market.
The programme allowed wealthy individuals and their family members to obtain residency in Hong Kong if they bought a certain amount of stocks, bonds or investment-linked insurance policies, or held other types of assets. But property purchases were excluded from consideration.
Undersecretary Chan reiterated that the new version of the scheme would continue to require applicants meet an investment threshold and property would not be counted.
While the government would not set key performance indicators to gauge the effectiveness of the scheme, a review mechanism would eventually be adopted to ensure it was targeting the desired type of investors, he added.
Lawmaker Kennedy Wong Ying-ho, who represents importers and exporters and is a solicitor by training, pointed out that the Companies Registry did not include a definition of “innovation and technology enterprises” and neither did business registration certificates contain any information relevant to the term.
“The scope of innovation and technology enterprises is wide,” Wong said. “Can the government also provide a list of enterprises that meet the government’s criteria or standards to be recognised as innovation and technology enterprises when launching the scheme this year?”
Lawmaker Duncan Chiu Tat-kun, who represents the I&T industry, also urged authorities to provide a list of criteria, which he said his sector had continually requested.
Admitting the need to narrow the scope of approved investment classes, Chan said his bureau was working on establishing rules with the Innovation, Technology and Industry Bureau.
Lawmakers Martin Liao Cheung-kong and Robert Lee Wai-wang asked whether infrastructure bonds and virtual assets could be included in the new scheme.
Chan said including infrastructure bonds, announced by the financial secretary in his budget, was “highly possible”.
“We did not specify virtual assets in our initial draft of the scheme,” Chan said. “But as the scheme is still being created, we will also make some effort to consider if they fit.”
The financial secretary earlier suggested the required investment level would be “in multiples” of the HK$10 million (US$1.27 million) threshold adopted by the previous scheme. Yuan-denominated assets could also qualify, in addition to assets denominated in Hong Kong dollars.
An insider earlier said the scheme was being relaunched because Hong Kong needed a migration pathway for investors similar to what Singapore offered to maintain the city’s competitiveness and provide more options for outsiders seeking residency.
Under Singapore’s Global Invest Programme, eligible individuals must have at least a three-year business track record and invest a minimum of S$2.5 million (US$1.9 million) in a new venture or expansion of an existing operation. They can also put money into an approved fund that invests in Singapore-based companies.
Lawmakers also urged authorities to adopt a forward-thinking mindset in granting land in the Northern Metropolis scheme. For example, the government could provide plots to major I&T companies on concessionary terms and within the shortest time frame possible so they could begin making plans, they said.
The mega project aims to construct up to 186,000 homes and develop a hi-tech hub along the border with mainland China.
Undersecretary for Innovation, Technology and Industry Lillian Cheong Man-lei said the San Tin Technopole, dubbed “Hong Kong’s Silicon Valley” under the Northern Metropolis project, would release its planning and development proposal in the second quarter this year.
The San Tin Technopole will provide at least 240 hectares (593 acres) of land for use by the I&T industry, including 87 hectares in the loop for the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Innovation and Technology Park, she added.
The government had estimated the Works Departments could begin planning in the fourth quarter of next year, subject to funding approval by the legislature, she said.