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Immigration Hong Kong Visa For Unpaid Charity Work | It Is Allowed | What Kind Of Visa Is Needed?

November 17th, 2023

Posted in Employment Visas, The Hong Kong Visa Geeza, Visitor Visas, Your Question Answered /


Does Volunteering for a Good Cause Represent Unpaid Work That Requires the Specific Permission of the Hong Kong Director of Immigration?

Immigration Hong Kong visa – the law here is clear – work, paid or unpaid requires the permission of the Hong Kong Director of Immigration

immigration hong kong visaImmigration Hong Kong Visa –  the question of volunteering for a good cause


Dear Stephen

I run an NGO.   We rely on volunteers from the community in order to achieve our objectives.

We are aware that certain groups, including visitors, domestic helpers and those on employment visa are not allowed to do any work / work for anyone other than the named employer and this includes unpaid work.

Immigration Hong Kong visa …

1. Do you have any insights into the definition of “unpaid work” ?  (e.g. If my mum visits and walks my dog, is it unpaid work?)

2. If someone is volunteering with an NGO, is the onus on the NGO to check that they have the right to volunteer?

3. Are you aware of anyone being prosecuted for doing volunteer work, or NGOs being investigated/prosecuted for this?


Unpaid Work and Volunteering in Hong Kong | Understanding Immigration Hong Kong Visa Requirements for NGOs and Individuals

If you are an NGO operating in Hong Kong, it’s important to understand the regulations surrounding unpaid work and volunteering, specifically in relation to immigration compliance. This knowledge is especially crucial for visitors, domestic helpers, and individuals with employment visas.

In this answer, I explore this common question about these regulations and provide information for NGOs and individuals involved in unpaid work and volunteering in Hong Kong that intersects with immigration and visa requirements.

What is Unpaid Work?

Unpaid work refers to any form of service or labour performed without receiving compensation, whether monetary or non-monetary. While the Immigration Department of Hong Kong does not explicitly define unpaid work, it is important to note that any work or service, whether paid or unpaid, might potentially breach the conditions of stay for visitors or others who do not the permission to engage in this unpaid activity.

Visitors in Hong Kong are strictly prohibited from engaging in any employment or services, regardless of remuneration. Even simple activities like having a visiting family member walk your dog could be seen as unpaid work, conceptually – after all there are professional dog walkers out there – but commonsense generally prevails with the Immigration Department.

Volunteering with an NGO

When individuals volunteer with an NGO, it is crucial for both the individual and the organization to adhere to immigration regulations. Although the primary responsibility lies with the individual to comply with their specific immigration status, NGOs should also exercise due diligence by verifying the immigration status of their volunteers and assessing their lawful employability (even if unpaid). This helps ensure that no one involved is in breach of the conditions of stay or violating the immigration regulations. NGOs can seek guidance from the Immigration Department or consult with immigration professionals to ensure compliance with relevant immigration and visa requirements.

Generally, non-permanent resident foreign nationals who hold a Dependant visa (not if the sponsoring spouse is a student though), Top Talent Pass, QMAS, CIES, IANG or Unconditional Stay are free and clear with ImmD. Everyone needs express permission.

In the final analysis, it all boils down to the attitude of the Immigration Department to prosecute for breach of conditions of stay. My firm advice is better safe than sorry.

Formally apply to ImmD for their permission and see where the application takes you.

Consequences of Violations

Engaging in unauthorized work, including unpaid work, can result in severe consequences. Violations of the conditions of stay may lead to penalties such as fines, imprisonment, or even deportation. Both individuals and organizations need to be fully aware of and adhere to the immigration regulations to avoid legal complications or negative outcomes.

Related Stuff

To delve deeper into the regulations and concepts related to immigration and work activities in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Visa Handbook is a valuable resource.

Additionally, the following resources provide relevant insights:

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The Hong Kong Visa Geeza (a.k.a Stephen Barnes) is a co-founder of the Hong Kong Visa Centre and author of the Hong Kong Visa Handbook. A law graduate of the London School of Economics, Stephen has been practicing Hong Kong immigration since 1993 and is widely acknowledged as the leading authority on business immigration matters here for the last 24 years.

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