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Case Studies

Hong Kong Employment Visa – Teenage High School Graduate Gets Approved!

May 19th, 2012

Posted in Case Study, Employment Visas, The Hong Kong Visa Geeza /


There are about 15,000 Hong Kong employment visas granted each year. Every one of these applications is unique with its own particular qualities and circumstances.

Consequently the application of the approvability test for permission to work in the HKSAR, obviously, differs from case to case.

The test for approval places a burden on the applicant to show that he or she possesses special skills knowledge or experience of value to and not readily available in Hong Kong.

Additionally, the proposed sponsoring employer has to demonstrate it is justified in engaging the services of the expatriate applicant as opposed to a ‘local person’ (defined as any local resident who does not need the approval of the Immigration department to take up that job.)

However, in order to shed a little light on how the test can be applied by way of an exception which proves the rule, I do have one case example which serves to illustrate not only how the approvability test is applied in practice but also how the Immigration Department are prepared to accept a well articulated argument that, once the facts have been fully assessed and appreciated, simply adds up and will lead to the much desired Hong Kong employment visa approval.

Our client was just 19. He was Japanese and the son of an eel farmer.

He had only a high school graduate diploma to his name but had been working on the family eel farm from a very early age.

His father’s family business was part of a local fish farming cooperative which had made an agreement to provide technical and support services to a newly established eel farming concern just over the border from Hong Kong, in the SAR of Shenzhen.

The intention was, in due course, for our client’s cooperative in Japan and the Shenzhen eel farming business to work together in supplying the finest quality eel products to the Japanese market.

The shortage of suitable land in Japan meant that the cooperative was missing out on high volume supply opportunities at the right quality to Japanese consumers who simply demand the best produce.

The cooperative therefore established a subsidiary entity in the HKSAR with the plan to fulfill their technical and advisory responsibilities to the Shenzhen eel farm from within Hong Kong.

This would involve commuting across the border to visit the China facility every day, laying the ground for a very tax-efficient cross-border trading business with Hong Kong managing the export operations once quality product in the right volume could be supplied ex Shenzhen into the Japanese market.

Therefore, our 19-year-old client was appointed as the Registered Representative in the HKSAR for the Japanese cooperative and dispatched to HK to oversee the Shenzhen eel farm in pursuit of the agreement between the Japanese and Chinese parties.

We were approached by the 19 year old for advice on his employment visa situation and, initially, we were quite skeptical.

At first blush it could not be said that there was an approvable visa opportunity in this case with its highly unusual circumstances.

The applicant was very young; had only limited formal educations; had nothing special about him per se, beyond the fact that he had a solid family connection to the president of the local cooperative (his father).

On the plus side he was learning (and picking up quite quickly) Cantonese but his English was very limited. Moreover, he was sufficiently responsible and capable enough to be entrusted with the implementation of the technical advice into the Shenzhen operation which was, after all, slowly coming good.

Another problem was that the amount of capital committed to the Hong Kong side of the project was quite modest all told as it was planned that only after the technical challenges had been definitively addressed would truly substantial investment be injected to scale the operations on both sides of the Hong Kong/Shenzhen boundary.

Consequently, when you combine youth, limited education, lack of language skills and only modest funding for the Hong Kong side of the equation (and also that the farm itself is in China, not in the HKSAR) we were not very hopeful that an employment visa for his in these circumstances could in fact be approved.

So we rolled our sleeves up and questioned him at length about what, in fact, was so special about him and his appointment to the project beyond the fact that he was the son of the president of the cooperative. To our surprise, we learned about an inherent skill to eel farming that not everyone possesses.

This esoteric skill is akin to chicken sexing.

Namely, when handling a juvenile eel from a cohort of the newly hatched, it is possible to innately appreciate from the strength and manner in the way that they flick their tails whether or not the genetic make-up of that batch is likely to grow out to market weight within the acceptable production time frames.

When held in the palm of the hand, the viability of such juveniles can be assessed accordingly and this skill is a vital part of the technology transfer arrangements which underpinned the collaboration between Japan and Shenzhen – and our client had it!

In the pursuit of our client’s application, we provided the Hong Kong Immigration Department with all of the data and academic papers attesting to this phenomenon which was, albeit strange, completely true.

To their credit, the Hong Kong ID accepted the argument and approved our client’s visa.

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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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