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New attraction regime has difficulties in standing out in the region

Nelson Moura

A new Legal Regime for Recruiting Qualified Staff was approved last week by the Legislative Assembly and should come into force on July 1st of this year. Local authorities consider that Macau needs to train more qualified local staff, but not only that. It has to eliminate existing gaps at the local level, creating programs to attract qualified foreign staff to boost socio-economic development.

The lack of human resources in the city, whether qualified or not, has been widely discussed by members of various industries in the city. Now that the city has emerged from the pandemic haze, economic activity is trying to recoup the damage.

However, the hiring process for non-resident workers has been described as highly complicated, due to excessive constraints and bureaucracy.

“With a sufficient number of highly qualified staff, Macau will be better able to support the rapid conversion of local industries and improve the current limiting situation oriented towards an industrial structure of predominance”, reads the document.

In an analysis of the new regulation, Icília Berenguel, from the C&C law firm, considers that this amendment “refreshes” a regime that has long been calling for change, namely, the Temporary Residence Scheme for Investors, Managers and Specialized Technicians, in force since 2005.

“This new regime, among other things, brings greater transparency in the residence permit procedure, for those who meet the requirements and can be classified as ‘talent’ or be framed in the qualified staff that are scarce and are necessary for the development of the various sectors of the Macau industry”, reads the opinion article he signs.

The new regime divides foreign talent into “high quality qualified staff”, “highly qualified staff” and “advanced level professionals”.

The lawyer also points out that this new legal regime complements the new Legal Regime for Migration Control and Permits to Stay and Residence in the Macao SAR, implemented in 2021.

“It is hoped that with this change […] the procedure, which has taken a long time to process, will become a quick and effective means of meeting the need for qualified staff in Macau, in this way being able to move towards the development of the diversification of Macau’s economy at levels of competitiveness adjusted to the challenges ahead”, points out Berenguel.

“I find it very difficult for Macau to compete”

According to João Li, director of Perfection, Lda – a business and investment consulting company for Chinese companies that intend to develop business in the Portuguese-speaking bloc -, greater effort is needed to develop qualified staff in the city.

“The new regime for attracting qualified staff shows that the authorities want to attract professionals who can develop other industries. Everyone knows that Macau is a small city with few human resources, this goes without saying. I think it will be difficult, but I think that the Government has already shown the will and patience to move forward with new policies”, he tells PLATAFORMA.

As an example, Li points out the need to increase the specialization of new translation professionals, in areas such as law, accounting and international trade. In comments to PLATAFORMA, Alan Chan, managing director of human resources companies TalentGroup Asia and macauHR, considers that the new regime makes “much clearer” who the local authorities want to attract.

However, it casts doubt on the Macao SAR’s ability to compete with other Asia-Pacific cities for skilled professionals. “I’m not sure there are enough offers to attract talent from these highly competitive industries. I find it very difficult for Macau to compete for talent with other markets like Singapore, Japan or even Thailand”, points out Chan.

IPIM case

The initial application evaluation phase will be carried out by specialized groups of a Qualified Personnel Development Commission, instead of the Macao Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM).

Once responsible for examining applications for residence permits made by senior management and specialized technicians, IPIM was hit by a corruption case involving its plans to attract investment and residence.

Under the Temporary Residence Scheme for Investors, Management and Technical Personnel, the Macao SAR Government approved 2,084 requests for temporary residence for technicians with special qualifications between 2005 and 2019.

However, the authorization and renovation of residences by the IPIM has been visually suspended since the Commissariat against Corruption (CCAC) revealed suspicions of corruption in 2018.

With the arrest and subsequent corruption investigation of former IPIM president Jackson Chang, the department carried out an internal audit of the respective schemes, which delayed the renewal of several applications.

Proof of this are the numbers for 2020: only three residency applications were approved by IPIM, with only one receiving the green light in 2021.

In 2022, Jackson Chang was sentenced to five years in prison for the commission of a crime of passive corruption, three crimes of money laundering and another three of abuse of power in the repetition of the trial in the first instance.

During a visit to Macao in 2019, Luo Wen, vice-chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, considered geographical limitations and lack of qualified human resources as some of the main barriers to development in the Macao SAR.

“We have to attract more talent, specialized labor”, he said at the time. “In addition to geography and human resources, there are still limitations on investment, academic research and the ability to support technologies”.

When presenting the new regime in 2021, the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Elsie Ao Ieong U, underlined that health, cutting-edge technology, culture and sport “will be the new sectors with development potential that Macau can explore first”.

However, Ao warned that in view of the increasingly pronounced trend of an aging local population and the departure of qualified local staff due to advantageous policies for attracting talent implemented by other countries and regions, which have been generating great competition, Macau will face certain challenges in terms of human resources.

This growing competition in attracting qualified staff in the region was highlighted by the Secretary as one of the reasons that made it urgent to have an improved regime on this matter.

This post is also available in: Português 繁體中文

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Generalist media, focusing on the relationship between Portuguese-speaking countries and China.

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