Most Western foreigners arrive to Hong Kong with a job. But finding a job in the ex-British colony is no the easy task you might think it to be. Not, at least, if you are looking for a legal working visa. Unlike some other less capitalist countries such as Spain, foreigners arriving to Hong Kong cannot request a residence permit for self-employed person. Instead, a company should negotiate the conditions of their employment with the government if they want to provide foreigners with a working visa –but there a number of reasons for being rejected, from it being a job that locals or Chinese immigrants can do, to no reason at all. In most cases rejections have no basis at all and the company will actually get it through after a number of failed requests. This process is so painful, some employers believe, that it is not worth the effort and, thus, they do not accept applicants without a working permit (as far as I know, if you have a working visa in Hong Kong and decide to change your job, your actual visa is no longer valid and the new company should provide a new one for you, so you are at square one again).
It is not clear whether it is actually illegal to move to Hong Kong to find a job or not, but foreigners are discouraged to do so. Instead, you should find a job BEFORE you move there. Of course, you can always visit the city as a tourist and try your luck, but once you get your working visa, you will have to exit and re-enter Hong Kong to “activate” it. This can be easily done by taking the ferry to nearby Macau, another part of China you can visit without a visa (but Chinese people DO need one).
Now, you may wonder why Chinese visitors need a special visa to visit Hong Kong but can access jobs easier than foreigners who do not need anything. Don’t worry. The Chinese government will solve this issue shortly, when in 2047 Hong Kong becomes part of China and any foreigner will be required to apply for a tourist visa, with a signed invitation letter, hotel booking, and plane ticket reservation.
Another important issue related to jobs in Hong Kong is the case of domestic helpers, who usually come from the Philippines and Indonesia. Leftish media usually portraits these domestic helpers as “forced labour” or “slaves”, and they may have a point. Most domestic helpers work six days a week, but they are not allowed to go anywhere even after they finish working. They are basically 24-hours slaves from Monday to Saturday and, when Sunday comes, they should also go back home early. They cannot even enjoy a Saturday night. In worst cases, domestic helpers only get one free day a month. They are also subject to periodical health examinations, and receive “free” Mandarin and Cantonese courses.
As with any other foreign worker, domestic helpers do not come to Hong Kong by themselves: they are sent by a government agency and you can only hire one if you earn a minimum of HK$15,000/month. Once you successfully get one, it will cost you at least HK$4,210/month because, in case you didn’t know, there is Minimum Wage in Hong Kong. Although Minimum Wage was discussed in Hong Kong as early as 1932, it was never established by any British governor until LegCo member Tommy Cheung suggested it in March 2010. Despite opposition from Chief Executive Donald Tsang, it was formally accepted in July 2010. Miriam Lau, a member of the pro-communist Liberal Party, estimated that between 30,000 and 170,000 jobs would be lost as a result of the proposal.
But although all of this sounds too awful, domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia face the same problems in many other countries, including Dubai or Japan. While most of them enjoy a happy life in Hong Kong and Japan, despite their infernal working hours and low salary, domestic helpers in Dubai face additional problems, such as racial discrimination, beating, and even rapping, all of which are quite rare in Hong Kong. This suggest that the main problem is not only located in the HKSAR legislation, but it is endemic to the Filipino and Indonesian government policies. As it usually happens, a mutually agreed contract between both parties without the intervention of any government would solve all these problems immediately –the function of the Hong Kong government should be limited to the protection of their property rights, and nothing else.
If you are a foreigner entering Hong Kong with a working visa and accommodation provided by your company, you will probably never experience any of the above, especially if you do not engage with locals or ignore the politics of the city. But this doesn’t mean that, because these problems do not affect you, they do not exist. Just keep in mind that any random German guy could enjoy a happy life in the late 1930s Germany, but a Jew would probably disagree with this.