Podcast S2E3 | Business Immigration: Employment and Entrepreneur Visas

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Podcast S2E3 | Business Immigration: Employment and Entrepreneur Visas

Podcast S2E3 | Business Immigration: Employment and Entrepreneur Visas 1600 583 Adam Hugill
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Adam Hugill talks about different types of visas and immigration schemes. He also discusses with Laura Hunt about her personal experience, the process of application to Immigration Department and successfully obtaining and renewing her visas.


00:31 Types of visas and immigration schemes
01:56 A personal story
05:16 Working Holiday Visa Scheme
07:02 Entrepreneur Visa


Welcome to a new series of The HIP Talks podcast: a collection of discussions on legal topics hosted by Hugill & Ip Solicitors. We provide high quality legal services with integrity, professionalism and respect for our clients and the community. Our solicitors have achieved outstanding results and recognitions in the areas of Dispute Resolution – Corporate & Commercial – Private Client, Probate and Trust – Family – Employment – Business Immigration and Data Privacy.

Adam Hugill  00:31
Hi, I am Adam Hugill of Hugill & Ip Solicitors. I’m the head of the Employment and Immigration team. This is a podcast about employment and entrepreneur visas in Hong Kong. As most people know, Hong Kong nationals and permanent residents have the right to work in Hong Kong without any restrictions. In addition, consistent with the objectives to develop Hong Kong as a high value added and diversified economy, a wide range of other visas are available for overseas nationals. The most common what we call General Employment visas – or GEP policy – that covers the employment visa and the investment as entrepreneur visas. In addition, there are various other visas available to overseas nationals which allow them to work in Hong Kong, all being subject to their own terms and conditions. These include the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme, the immigration arrangements for non-local graduates, working holiday visas and training visas. For the purposes of today’s talk, we’ll be focusing on employment and entrepreneur visas. These broadly aim to do the same thing: employment visas are intended to allow companies to hire overseas talent that is not readily available in Hong Kong, entrepreneur visas are to provide an opportunity for talented individuals to open and run their businesses in Hong Kong. We’re very happy to have with us today my good friend, Laura Hunt. Laura is the director of a local Hong Kong voice and talent company called Neon Lights. Hi, Laura.

Laura Hunt  01:47
Hi. Thanks for having me.

Adam Hugill  01:48
I think it is right to say you lived in Hong Kong now for about four years.

Laura Hunt  01:51
Yes, three years at the moment. This is my fourth year.

Adam Hugill  01:53
Okay. And what brought you to Hong Kong in the first place?

Laura Hunt  01:56
Well, I’d always wanted to live abroad at some point and then the UK voted in favor of Brexit, which I wasn’t best pleased with. So, I thought why not now, and I settled on Asia because I wanted to explore more of the area. And so, I just wrote to drama companies in Hong Kong and Singapore deciding they’d probably be less of a language barrier in those countries. I’ve been teaching voice and singing for a number of years by that point, and I completed my Masters in Voice Studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. So, I hoped my qualifications and experience might be desirable. In actual fact, I was overqualified for most of the companies I wrote to but at that point, I just wanted a change of scene, so I was happy to take a job that wasn’t perfect. Luckily, a children’s drama company in Hong Kong accepted me for a job as their singing teacher on the proviso that I teach some drama as well. So, they helped me get the ball rolling, and I moved here in October 2016.

Adam Hugill  02:46
And so, it certainly sounds like you have the right academic qualifications to qualify you for an employment visa as well as experience. I am guessing since you are taking up employment with an established Hong Kong company, they handled the visa application process for you.

Laura Hunt  02:58
Yeah, pretty much. I wasn’t In Hong Kong at the time the application was being made, so they sent my employment contract and the immigration forms to me, and then I had to return them with copies of my university certificates and so on.

Adam Hugill  03:11
So, a fairly straightforward process. Do you recall any difficulties?

Laura Hunt  03:14
It was definitely a longer process than we all expected. There were quite a young company, so they had to jump through quite a few hoops in order to sponsor my visa. So, I remember having to send lots of new documents whenever they realized they needed something else from me. And so, I remember the process started in August 2016 and we hoped that I’d have my visa by early October.

Adam Hugill  03:35
Okay, so they allowed about eight weeks for the application. When we look at the government guidance, they say it takes about four to six weeks. But that wasn’t your experience.

Laura Hunt  03:45
No, no, it wasn’t. And they wanted me to start work as soon as possible. So, I did end up moving here before I had my visa. And they asked me to work until the visa had arrived.

Adam Hugill  03:57
And of course, that’s not something that is permitted. It’s a long-held myth that if the visa applications being made, then you’re allowed to work which of course is not the case.

Laura Hunt  04:06
Exactly, exactly. So, I was here for a while, essentially as a tourist. And then the visa finally arrived on the 18th of November. And so then I had to do the Macau trip and come and go there and back in a day to validate the visa.

Adam Hugill  04:20
Okay, so in total it took about was 16 weeks, four months to process.

Laura Hunt  04:24
It did. Yeah, so the, I guess the most difficult part of that was just finance and I went through most of my savings.

Adam Hugill  04:31
Okay, and the Macau trip. Just to explain why that’s necessary when visa is granted, it’s not actually valid when it gets stuck into your passport, it’s valid when you re-enter Hong Kong. And so when the visa is granted, the person receiving the visa needs to exit Hong Kong and then re-enter and then when they receive a chop on their visa from the immigration port, that’s when it activates. Okay, you weren’t really in Hong Kong for very long before the entrepreneurial bug bit you and you decided to go it alone.

Laura Hunt  05:02
Yeah, I felt like I wasn’t really being challenged in my current role. So at the time, I really wanted to concentrate more on one to one voice lessons rather than group lessons and it made more sense for me to break away from the company and try to do this on my own.

Adam Hugill  05:16
It’s a very brave decision. And I understand you decided to do this via the Working Holiday Visa Scheme.

Laura Hunt  05:21
Yeah, a friend told me about the working holiday visa and the fact that it was really easy to apply for and they just said it’s brilliant for UK nationals, you can get it for a whole year. And so I just applied for it myself, it was very quick and straightforward. And then shortly after that, I realized that I needed to actually register as a sole proprietor as well and because in order to legally work for myself, and again, once I’d look that up and find out how to do it, that was quite simple as well.

Adam Hugill  05:50
Excellent. The limitations on a working holiday visa is that they’re only for a limited period of time as a British National, I think you get 12 months. Other nationalities are not all nationals can apply for them, but other nationalities it’s three to six months, I believe. And also, the other issue with working holiday visas you need to be under 30.

Laura Hunt  06:09
Yes, yeah.

Adam Hugill  06:10
So you were established for 12 months into the working holiday visa. And obviously that was due to expire. And I think that’s when we first met to consider what other options were available to you.

Laura Hunt  06:19
Exactly. The working holiday visa proved to be a success in that it proves that my business was viable in Hong Kong. So that meant that I needed to find a way to continue to do what I was doing. So my friend Nicholas and I set up a company together, which we called Neon Lights, and, yeah, we went about the process of setting it up. We hired a company to help us with that, because we didn’t really know what we were doing, so they helped us a bit with the business plan, opening the bank account and registering the company. And we found that they were a little bit more money than they were worth, so when it came to us being about to apply for our visas, that’s when I bumped into you and you advised I sacked them.

Adam Hugill  07:02
I think I suggested we went in a slightly different direction. Okay. So if I’m counting right, you’ve been in Hong Kong for three years, and you’ve had an employment visa, working holiday visa and an entrepreneur’s visa. What difficulties did you encounter when applying for the entrepreneur visa?

Laura Hunt  07:20
Well, because both my business partner and I were non local, or non-PR, and we needed Neon Lights to sponsor both of us as its shareholders, directors and employees and that was quite difficult because we had fairly limited upfront investment. Everything was self-funded. So it was that just made it quite tricky. I remember you saying that when we first met, that would be a difficulty for us.

Adam Hugill  07:44
Yes, I remember saying that. One of the key criteria for the entrepreneur visa is being able to demonstrate your substantial contribution to Hong Kong. This involves you putting together a business plan that sets out all of your key financial information as well as your investment anticipated turnover and profits, but there’s a very large incentive applied to generating local talent, i.e. hiring Hong Kong locals and I recall that your original business plan envisaged you and Nicholas both sort of non-Hong Kong locals being the first employees. And I felt that that might cause some difficulty with the application process, in particular getting two visas, rather than just one.

Laura Hunt  08:26
Yeah, I remember you saying that, but the problem then pretty much sorted itself out.

Adam Hugill  08:31
That’s right. I recall sitting in our conference room, your business partner Nicholas announced that he was due to get married to his other partner. And his other partner was very fortunately a Hong Kong permanent resident. They certainly got married and he joined the company as a dependent and we successfully obtained the entrepreneur visa for you. Do you recall any particular difficulties with the application process for entrepreneur visas?

Laura Hunt  08:53
I remember the main difficulty being the business plan. Neither Nicholas or I understood the jargon, so we ended up waffling on with unnecessary details and then showing it to you and you being like, but where are the numbers? Otherwise, it wasn’t too tricky. There were a few questions back and forth from Immigration (Department) when they needed clarification on my personal finances, and the details of my previous employers. But thankfully, you were there to cut through the jargon and explain what it actually meant.

Adam Hugill  09:22
All of this happened about two years ago, and only a couple of months ago, you needed to apply to extend entrepreneur visa: what particular difficulties arose when applying to extend the visa?

Laura Hunt  09:34
It was mainly about there being some discrepancies between original business plan and the what we’ve actually achieved, so we managed to do keep on target financially. But then there were other areas where we departed a little bit from the original plan. And so because Immigration (Department) retain all the papers, they look into that and they scrutinize it and I’m sure even though we’ve resolved this, they’ll probably scrutinize it on the next renewal as well.

Adam Hugill  10:04
Now, the good news is that’s at least three years away, so you can breathe freely for a while longer. That actually came about as a result of an internal government audit, where they found that the Immigration Department possibly wasn’t being as robust as it should have been when renewing entrepreneur visas, in reviewing the previous business model, the original business plan against what the company had actually achieved. And so when it came to your round of renewal, the government was very focused on that. And I recall – Coronavirus aside – again, it took slightly longer than we expected to answer all of the questions and to satisfy the immigration department with what they what they wanted.

Laura Hunt  10:43
Yeah. And with it being shut down as well. It just took everything took a little bit longer than we’d hoped.

Adam Hugill  10:48
Sure, it’s very stressful, but as we say, that’s three years, so it’s three years to go before we need to go through this again. So it’s been great talking to you today. Thank you very much for sharing your experience and insights with us. This is Laura Hunt, Director of Neon Lights, Hong Kong’s premier singing and spoken voice coach.

Laura Hunt  11:02
Yeah, thank you, Adam for helping with both of those visa processes over the years.

Adam Hugill  11:06
No problem at all. Thank you very much for listening to this Immigration podcast by Hugill & Ip and stay tuned.

Make sure you tune into our other episodes of The HIP Talks podcast by checking the insights section at our website at www.hugillandip.com. You’re welcome to send your comments to our email address hello@hugillandip.com. If you found this episode to be insightful and helpful, please share it with friends, family and business associates along with other episodes of The HIP Talks podcast.

This podcast is for informational purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal or professional advice.

Adam Hugill

Adam advises on a wide range of contentious and non-contentious legal and commercial issues, with a special emphasis on employment law in Hong Kong and the Asia Pacific region.

All articles by : Adam Hugill
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