Picture: “Hong Kong Victoria Harbour Pano View from ICC 201105” by WiNG – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Visa for startup founders in Hong Kong

A lot is written about Hong Kong as a startup ecosystem, but one thing is for sure: a working visa isn’t a breakpoint anymore!

As startup mentor and as co-director of the Founder Institute in Hong Kong, I often get questions from founders about working visas in Hong Kong and I did my share of visa applications so far (6 applications, 100% hit rate). So when I got a meeting invitation (hat tip to Gene Soo) about Attracting Talent from Outside Hong Kong in the Legco office by Charles Mok and the Immigration Department, I went to brush up my knowledge on visa applications in Hong Kong.

The meeting was on knowledge migration working visas in Hong Kong and especially the new “Start up visa” regulations. I will spare you the standard visa applications and arrangements for Chinese nationals and dive right into the “start up visa” details.

Start-up Business
The official name of the category is “Start-up Business” and is setup especially for entrepreneurs. (“founders” is still not a term in the Big Dictionary of Immigration Departments) The scheme is open for applications as of 4th May 2015.
The Immigration officers made it clear that this is a new category and they are open for suggestions, “treat us as a startup”, we are still learning….

The reasons for having that category is: (directly from the slide)
– to attract more innovative and visionary start-up entrepreneurs to face trend of economic globalisation
– Startup entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, but generally lacking funds and credible track records to meet requirements of investment visa applications
– Business nature of startup businesses supported by government-backed programmes have been scrutinised with confirmed sustainability.
– Government-backed programmes to provide financial and other technical or professional supports to startup businesses which help sustainable development

So this means that startup founders can apply for a startup business visa if their startup is “vetted” (read: accepted) by one of the 5 government backed initiatives in Hong Kong.

The 5 (pre)approved programmes
To be favourably considered in your application, your startup have to be accepted in one of these 5 programmes:

– StartmeupHK Venture Programme (InvestHK)
– Cyberport Incubation Programme
– Incu-App, Incu-Bio and Incu-Tech at Hong Kong Science and Technology Park (HKSTP)
– Small Entrepreneur Research Assistance Programme and Enterprise Support Scheme (Innovation and Technology Commision)
– Design Incubation Programme (Hong Kong Design Centre)

Startups “vetted” by other programmes can apply on a case to case basis. So if your startup is accepted in for example Ycombinator, Chinaccelerator or 500 Startups etc… and you want to set up shop in Hong Kong, you make a good chance of being favourably considered, at least this was my impression from the Immigration Officers when asked about that.

Persons eligible under the “Start-up Business” category are:

– Proprietor or partner of startup company
– Key researcher of relevant project

This is with “no limit on the total amount”. So in theory you could take everyone in that has an equity stake in the startup (proprietor / partner) and key staff. These categories are obviously open for interpretation, so get your visas while they are still hot!

EDIT: This article also appeared on Medium

Picture: “Hong Kong Victoria Harbour Pano View from ICC 201105” by WiNGOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.