At Issue
10/17/2011 2:56:51 AM EST
Seeking clarity in the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme
Alex Lau examines the requirements contained in the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme and argues that the lack of clarity may deter overseas talents from settling in Hong Kong.
Posted by LexisNexis

In June 2006, the Hong Kong Government commenced accepting applications under the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme (QMAS) to attract overseas talents. QMAS’ objective is to provide an alternative route to secure residency in Hong Kong in addition to existing visa categories. They include the employment, investment and capital investment visas. QMAS has attracted famous mainland Chinese personalities to submit applications. Successful applicants include world renowned pianists Lang Lang and Li Yundi, and actress Zhang Ziyi.

Although QMAS has been in operation for over five years, there is still plenty of room for improvements. Some of the requirements that applicants need to meet are somewhat opaque, for example, those relating to the assessment of an applicant’s academic background and work experience. Further, the importance of the Advisory Committee, which provides for the final approval on all applications, has not been emphasised enough in the application materials and may cause confusion for potential applicants in respect of the eligibility requirements under QMAS. This article attempts to provide some clarity in relation to these requirements.

QMAS distinguished from other visas

QMAS is a separate scheme from other Hong Kong resident visas. The latter includes the employment visa, investment visa and capital investment visa. The employment visa and QMAS are different in several aspects. First, the employment visa requires an applicant to secure a job offer from a local employer prior to the submission of an application. QMAS applicants have no such requirement. Second, to be eligible for an employment visa, the applicant needs to undergo a qualitative assessment to determine, inter alia, whether he/she has the necessary experience and qualifications for a position that cannot be easily filled by someone local, and/or a skill that is in short supply in Hong Kong. QMAS, however, uses a quantitative assessment system in the form of a points system to determine eligibility. Third, employment visa holders are essentially employees. On the other hand, QMAS applicants may either be employees of a company/organisation or self-employed such as an artist, actor/actress or athlete. In contrast with the employment visa and QMAS, the investment visa and capital investment visa are catered for entrepreneurs. One major difference between the investment visa and the capital investment visa is the applicant’s degree of participation in his/her investment in Hong Kong. Investment visa holders are proactive participants who manage their businesses on a daily basis. Capital investment visa holders are passive investors who invest at least HK$10 million in Hong Kongbased assets (other than real property).


Requirements for QMAS are given in the form of guidance notes published by the Immigration Department of Hong Kong (ImmD). QMAS operates on a points system in two forms, namely the Achievement-based Points Test (APT) and the General Points Test (GPT). Under the APT, the applicant must demonstrate that he/she
has received an award of exceptional achievement (eg an Academy Award), or the work performed has been acknowledged by his or her peers, or the applicant has contributed significantly to the development of his/her field (eg being the recipient of a major vocational award, such as a lifetime achievement award from his/her industry). It should be noted, however, that an applicant who passes the APT must still satisfy the ImmD under the family maintenance requirements as well as secure approval by the Advisory Committee (discussed further

The problematic issues arising from QMAS concerns the GPT. Since December 2008, the pass mark for the GPT has been set at 80points. Successful applicants are granted a 12-month stay in Hong Kong to find employment or to set up his/her own (self-employed) business. The GPT consists of five point-scoring factors: (i) age; (ii) academic/professional qualifications; (iii) work experience; (iv) language proficiency; and (v) family background. An applicant who passes the GPT must still satisfy the ImmD under the family maintenance requirements as well as secure approval from the Advisory Committee.

An applicant can score points between the ages of 18 and 50. A maximum of 30 points is awarded to a person between the ages of 18 and 39. Twenty points are awarded to a person between the ages of 40-44 and so on. The age factor may seem more advantageous to younger applicants, but an older applicant is likely to score more points under the academic/professional qualification factor as well as the work experience factor to make up the difference. 

For applicants who are on the verge of crossing over to the next age bracket, they should be aware that there is potential for losing points pertaining to the age factor. This is because the age of the person on the application will be taken as the actual age on the day the ImmD commences a review of the application. If the application arrives at the ImmD by post, it may take more than a few days thereafter to review the case due to the backlog of applications. By this time, the applicant’s birthday may have already passed and even more crucial is that the applicant may have fallen into the next age bracket thereby losing points. In such cases, applicants should consider submitting the application by hand because the ImmD officer will affix a receipt chop on a copy of the application form, immediately upon delivery, and return the same to the applicant.

Academic/professional qualifications 
An applicant with tertiary or professional qualification(s) may score between 30 to 45 points.

The following is a sample of doctoral degrees available from tertiary institutions: a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), an EdD (Doctor of Education), a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration), a JSD (Doctor of Juridical Science), an EngD (Engineering Doctorate), a DSW (Doctor of Social Work) and a DHS (Doctor of Health Science). There are three problems concerning the term ‘doctoral degree’. First, it is submitted that it is not appropriate to award the same points to all types of doctorate degrees because each of these doctoral degree programmes carries special requirements. For example, in some universities, a PhD dissertation can be almost twice as long as that for a DBA. Second, there are honorary doctorate degrees which are sometimes awarded to people after they make a generous financial contribution to a university. Would these be included too? The guidance notes should be more clear and detailed about the points awarded under various types of doctoral degrees. With respect, it submitted that it is not appropriate to award the same number of points under the broad umbrella of ‘doctoral degree’.

Third, an applicant with two doctoral degrees scores only five more points than an applicant with one doctoral degree. It is submitted that these five extra points ignore the academic rigour put into a doctoral programme. With the exception of an honorary doctoral degree, any other doctoral degree mentioned above requires a period of three to six years’ intensive studying. If the ImmD wants to award points to a person with two doctoral degrees, it is suggested that he/she should not score only 45 points, but rather a minimum of 60 points to reflect the effort he/she has put in.

Work experience
An applicant can score from 10 to 50 points depending on the level of work experience. The maximum points are given to a person with ‘not less than 10 years’ graduate or specialist level work experience, including at least 5 years in a senior role’. 

The points awarded do not require the applicant’s work experience to have been accrued immediately before submitting his/her application. Therefore, an applicant could have had the relevant work experience in the past, but was laid off say one year before submitting his/her QMAS application. The applicant could now be unemployed or working in a completely different field. It is submitted that an applicant with continuous and relevant employment, up to the submission of his/her QMAS application, should score more points than an applicant with intermittent periods of employment. The ImmD should add the requirement that the work experience must be accrued within the period of at least six months before the submission of the QMAS application.

Language proficiency
To score points under English language proficiency, the applicant must have achieved a certain standard in recognised international English tests, such as IELTS, within two years immediately before submitting his/her QMAS application. The question posed is: why is a two-year time limit imposed here but not under the work experience factor discussed above?

Family background
The first two categories below refer to a married spouse. A spouse is defined, under the guidance notes (para 49), as a married spouse under a valid marriage recognised by the Laws of Hong Kong. Thus, partners in cohabitation or same sex marriages may be excluded. If QMAS aims at attracting outstanding talents from around the world, partners in the two latter categories of relationships should also be considered.

Maintenance of the family

In addition to passing the GPT, the applicant must demonstrate that he/she can support his/her family in the first 12 months after arriving in Hong Kong. The guidance notes provide no assistance with respect to the monetary amount required but the ImmD has advised the author that the maintenance can be worked out to be about HK$10,000 per person per month. In light of this, if a successful applicant plans to arrive with his/her family of four and is given a year to find a job after initial entry into Hong Kong, he/she will need to have up to HK$480,000 ($10,000 x 12 x 4) in cash or equivalent, when submitting the QMAS application. This is by no means a small amount. It is submitted that the guidance notes should specify an amount so as not to confuse potential applicants.

The Advisory Committee

Even if an applicant passes the ABT or the GPT, the case must still be referred to an Advisory Committee for final approval. The guidance notes provide that:

"The Committee consists of official and non-official members appointed by the Chief Executive of the HKSAR. The Committee will consider the socioeconomic needs of Hong Kong, the sectoral mix of candidates and other factors, and will recommend to the Director of Immigration how best to allocate a quota in each selection exercise. High-scoring applications do not necessarily secure quota allotment.”

It can hardly be said that this selection process is transparent and whether an applicant is approved is mainly
at the discretion of the ImmD and the government of the day. In addition, the significance of the referral to the
Committee should be made more apparent in the guidance notes or highlighted to raise the applicant’s awareness about the final hurdle that must be overcome to obtain a successful application. The author has heard many potential applicants who had formed the misconception that scoring 80 points or more on the GPT would automatically permit him/her to migrate to Hong Kong.


QMAS does not contain well thought-out point scoring factors, and many aspects of the policy are unclear. This may deter potential applicants who are highly skilled and talented from settling in Hong Kong and go somewhere else. The ImmD should revise the guidance notes for the sake of clarity by addressing the problematic issues that have been raised.



Dr Alex KL Lau
Consultant, Haldanes
Associate Professor, Hong Kong Baptist University









優才計劃在綜合計分制中出現較多問題。自2008年12月起,綜合計分制的及格分數為80分。獲批准的申請人可獲發逗留香港12個月的簽證,藉以尋找工作或成立自僱業務。綜合計分制共有五個計分標準:(i) 年齡;(ii) 學歷/專業資格;(iii) 工作經驗;(iv) 語文能力;及 (v) 家庭背景。申請人如通過綜合計分制,仍須達到入境處對於供養家屬的要求,以及獲得諮詢委員會的批核。











除了通過綜合計分制,申請人須證明自身在抵港首十二個月內能供養其家屬。《申請須知》沒有訂明所需金額,但入境處告訴筆者,供養所需費用大約為每人每月港幣一萬元。因此,一名獲批申請的人士擬一家四口初次抵港後一年內找工作,他/她便需要在遞交申請時證明自身擁有大約港幣48萬($10,000 x 12 x 4) 的現金或等值資產。這不是一筆小數目,筆者認為《申請須知》應訂明金額,以免申請人感到困惑。










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