Today we sit down with Stephen Barnes from Hong Kong Visa Centre and discuss how business owners should consider the visa and immigration process in Hong Kong. Is it right for them? Will they be registering a HK Limited and planning to remain in Hong Kong, or working “offshore”?
Its a rather complex topic, and we’re lucky to have the “Hong Kong Visa Geezer” break it down piece by piece to help get our heads around it and deal with it properly!
Topics Covered in this Episode
- Brief introduction of Stephen Barnes and his Hong Kong Visa Service company
- Entrepreneurs in Hong Kong and out of Hong Kong, thought process of considering a Hong Kong visa
- Investment Visa, what it is and who its for.
- Comparing an Investment visa to an Employment visa to a Student visa, and a Tourist visa. Putting it all together, which one is for who, and why.
- Those Hong Kong companies in Mainland China (Like me) or in Southeast Asia or other countries, how they are treated
- Diving Deeper into the Investment visa for entrepreneurs and small to medium sized businesses
- Newbie tip for a Foreigner in USA or Europe looking to make the move to Hong Kong to startup.
People / Companies Mentioned in this Episode
- Stephen’s Hong Kong Visa Centre Service
- Stephen’s Blog: Hong Kong Visa Geeza
- Do It Yourself Hong Kong Visa Handbook
Upcoming event in Shenzhen, China Stephen mentioned during the episode:
Event: Discussion about Hong Kong Visa & Immigration
Host: Stephen Barnes
When: Thursday, November 14, 2013
Time: 7pm to 9pm
#16 Rose Garden Phase 2
Episode Length: 21:44
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Below we had this podcast converted to text, as it is a top listened episode, enjoy!
Introduction: Welcome to the Global From Asia podcast, where the daunting process of running an international business from Hong Kong is broken down into straight up actionable advice and now your host, Michael Michelini.
Mike: Okay. Thank you everyone for tuning in to Global from Asia episode 4. I’m here with Steve Barnes from Hong Kong visa center. Thank you for coming, Steve.
Steve: Mike, it’s my pleasure entirely.
Mike: Okay. Great! So let’s just jump right in. Maybe you could introduce yourself and your company to our listeners today.
Steve: Steve Barnes, been in Hong Kong for 27 years, started immigration practice in Hong Kong 20 yrs ago. I’ve been practicing ever since.
Mike: Okay, great! Yeah, I met you actually at a seminar where you were sharing your knowledge and appreciate you being on podcast for everybody today. It’s a hot topic, visa and immigration…
Mike: For expats here in Hong Kong. So I think a lot of our listeners are sometimes in Asia where they are coming through Hong Kong, doing their either startup or their entrepreneurial endeavors as a small business or medium sized business. What do you kinda advice them for immigration or visas in Asia or in Hong Kong specifically?
Steve: Well, I’m just telling that my expertise is Hong Kong. I’m gonna limit my comments to Honey Kong, it is an immigration opportunity for anybody who want to established a joint business here but effectively, if you’re a foreign national and you want to reside in Hong Kong to promote, pursue your business activity, you need to make an application for an investment visa, which is an employment visa a credit cases on you undertaking an active investment in Hong Kong and probability test. Together this institution show that you are in a position to make a substantial contribution to the economy of Hong Kong. Now, in many ways, everyone asking how long is visa strings, right? But there are certain things that run a bit advice around every investment visa application that goes on to get approved. The things that you need to show through your planning and through your, through early months of your operation that you are in a position to create local employment opportunities. Don’t get any local jobs on day 1. If you have a business plan that you put into immigration department for investment visa application and there is no opportunity to locally create a local employment, then you’re going to travel together and the second thing that the immigration department are looking for, a suitable business premises and there is a premises that kind of vibe for who you are and implementation direct going to time of your plan. You can kick off with a mere virtual office, which you borrow to cheap place, but the expectation is, then your course, sooner or later, once your business plan arrived at point where you’re hiring your first employee. That first employee will have some more sensible to report, to work to each day, because you can’t expect this person to going that, fulfill their employment duties where employee from your kitchen table or a spare bedroom so no matter how economically to have any kind of bring some quality time, place for your employees to work, you need time to spare and prepare the pre-requisite for a proper engine course. The 3rd leg of approvability still is actually divided into two parts, the first is cash and the second is resources. Cash million dollar question everybody asked me is literally how much cash you need. It all depends on the circumstances. in my experience, if you have less, less than 500,000 Hong Kong dollars, you may find that your application could be compromised, so deem to be weak especially with the other aspect than your plan is a little bit marginal but if you got a half a million or more, it’s reasonable to achieve that you can go on, to expect the consideration of the immigration positively approved rather than negatively think if you haven’t enough cash. So half a million can do it but I’ve seen in application they approved less cash as well but it’s not hard and fast. The trick is to understand that you shouldn’t be really thinking that the immigration department gonna buy into your startup laying type activity which is fine without at least having some cash because you know, laying doesn’t mean cashless, laying means having a money and spending the right kind of money so that’s an important consideration. The max and the more have the issue, it is swiping very smartly got to eye level funding so that’s always good. So that deals with cash and the other element is resources, Now resources are usually all the kind of things that are driving you to make a decision to pursue investment will come in the first place. So if you got a bit of code and you already developed, you wanna use new investment in Hong Kong to be able to build on that. The fact you’ve got a basic version of your product written already. It’s a resource for first of your application if you’re coming to Hong Kong and youre general trading, and you’ve got some kind of clientele that are already in place, that’s all good. Any other resource will allow the immigration department to objectively conclude that your business, if you use those resources together with the cash that you’ve got will eventually go on to results in a solidly and commercial enterprise, that’s the challenge.
Mike: Okay, got it. Thank you so much, Steve. So I just like to recap. He mentioned 3 points. That you’re going to employ local Hong Kong residence or Hong Kong people in the business.
Steve: Anybody in Hong Kong includes lawful employable but without further promiscuous of the immigration department
Mike: Lawfully employable.
Steve: Those people are account as well for persons for the purposes of local employment
Mike: Okay, got it. And that was not to be immediate but yeah to have convincible, clear playing that you will do that. I mean what time of year, 1 year?
Steve: That’s what your plans is, right? I always say to clients, “dont think about structuring your business around immigration, think about structuring your business and ask yourself actually what does this business works for immigration purposes and you will find that there is a quite close-call relation doing business that you will expect to be successful`and those businesses which immigration department approved.”
Mike: Got it. Okay. And then second point is the office, for when you’re employing the workers that is suitable location.
Steve: Suitable environment for them to work. That’s correct, yes.
Mike: And the 3rd is the cash and the resources. I think I just like to kinda some like convert to dollars when we talk, so he’s saying, of course it is always hard, I knew everyone asking how much money.
Steve: Let’s say $75000 – $80000 US dollars into Hong Kong business bank account. Interesting there is you don’t actually need to have all the money in the business bank account. You can have enough money in the Hong Kong business bank account to finance first 6 months of cash flow, and the rest of the funds is you can attest in your personal account anywhere in the world. So you can show you’ve got the money ready to deployment into the business. You need loan those funds by the way then efficiently through at least 2 years it means before you make out a purchase so the best part would good confident proof that you are not just borrowed money and shot fine it back which is always just the perks of visa application. They all know the tricks. They’ve done it.
Mike: Yeah, I can imagine. Okay. So those are the 3 main points. I kinda a lil bit follow up the resources, so code, I mean your degree, or like education…
Steve: Yeah, your service, yourself is also a resource, your background, what you bring into, you got to have a good track record and business in the past, if it becomes successful, they come through all those types of businesses. All that stuff.
Mike: Okay. So then I think some people used a trick of employment visa even though maybe they are not familiar or for a small business. I know you don’t that more greyer.
Steve: This is an old guess not. People think that you can somehow separate ownership from your business vehicle and become a third party and also an employee, You can’t. So during the currency of the application if its a new business situation, you’ve come to this interaction, that the existing composed interaction they’ll going to look to say who the owners and director of the channel is are. i would say that you putting yourself as an employee but you’re actually own the company and director of the company. You expected on how you dresses up. They are going to comply the investment visa probability test here. that’s the hard to test of substantial contribution to the economy rather than the lesser test which is do you personally possess special skills and and expected knowledge that are not already available in hong kong . So your personal skills in the contacts of business that your shares it will be seeing merely as a resource and they will apply an investment visa approval test on you but if you’re making the application for an employment visa, and you don’t have an interest in the business and then address you will just apply special skills and obviously, experience to anyone move so much to the ability of the business to substantial contributions to the economy of Hong Kong.
Mike: Got it. So there’s a 3rd option I heard of, student visa?
Steve: Well, student visa will get you on ground of Hong Kong but you not lawfully employable, you can’t join a business of your own based on Hong Kong, you can only study and thats it.
Mike: Okay, okay. Thank you for that. Lets, so we talked about, this is kinda recap, I think there’s a three even four I mean, technically there’s a tourist visa, to make on your passport. I am on my US passport holder. I have 90 days stay.
Mike: So I actually never legally work in Hong Kong. I’m an offshore Hong Kong company.
Mike: So, I sometimes visit Hong Kong, sometimes working up a coworking space, gather some meetings. I’m okay, right?
Steve: Well, they say, it’s all about residing. So if you, as I know you are living in China but you spent most of your time in Hong Kong and pursue some business you establish here and your status is visitor, if your intentions to reside, it’s crystallize, then visiting days are just actually suitable in various before, because you’re effectively directing, controlling, employees of your company and visiting is not what it intend to do. the visitation is supposedly to come, interaction with Hong kong as a regular visitor and you gonna depart again. So, when you end up spending a great deal of time in your visiting days status instead in reality your intention is to reside is crystallized then you need to change your status from visitor to investment that you’re running in Hong Kong.
Mike: I understand. So, yeah. I mean, it’s actually complicated for me, so we talked about it, i think the correct way is, I, as entrepreneur and I wanna reside in Hong Kong as an investment visa.
Steve: Absolutely. You need to incorporate a company, get a business registration, you need to have a really good business plan which doesn’t actually need to be reflective in form of document cause in many ways immigration department normal one want to register their business plan that you might have write to an ipad. So if you’re self funding your business, there’s no formal need of business plan that might be a good practice to crystallize your thoughts and the immigration department will look at your stories as whole. They need to see that you got all the resources that you just discussed. They need to be satisfied that there is no security objection to you being granted decision to reside in Hong Kong to employ your business plan. When you have a good story, you carry can the arguments, you can tickle the bosses and you got the right level of money and there’s no security reason for you not being granted a permission you’re looking for, there’s no reason to expect, the immigration department will give you what you need.
Mike: Okay ,time frame normally?
Steve: 6 – 8 months.
Mike: 6 – 8.
Steve: 4 – 6 months, I’m sorry.
Mike: 4 -6 months.
Steve: If you’re not a resident in Hong Kong, you live somewhere else like, you do, when you want to make an application it’s going to take 4 – 6 months. If you presently reside in Hong Kong and you’re actually working for another employer and you want to stop working for another employer and start up for yourself, you still need to pass in investment visa probability test. Thus an existing residents that application dealt with different section of immigration department. It applies the same criteria but it’s a different team that handles the work. And because you’re an existing residents, that thing will finalize your application 6-8 weeks not 4 -6 months.
Mike: Okay, got it.
Steve: Make sense?
Mike: Yes. Thank you so much. So yeah, to kinda recap. Even if, so if you are working for a company in Hong Kong and you’re a resident of Hong Kong, when you wanna start your own business, apply for an investment visa, it’s a little bit shorter a month, two month and a half, still have to the money in your control.
Mike: Either a company account or personal accounts.
Mike: But if you’re doing it offshore or like me on China or others in Southeast Asia or West or as a visitor, so then if I came on 90 days stay and i’m staying in a hotel.
Steve: You can apply for guest status while you’re here but the immigration department dont allow the fact that you have a pending investment visa application to somehow advantages you in relation to 90 days of your stay. You have to leave before the 90 days are up and make a re-entrance some station if you want to comeback as a visitor before the immigration department approve your investment visa application.
Mike: Got it and really, really viable information, Steve. So again, I like to always ask on this talks. One kind of tip for newbie listener. I think a lot maybe don’t have the 500,000 Hong Kong Dollar but they are educated hustler entrepreneur. What kind of information would you give them?
Steve: Well, bear in mind that the visa class by definition called for active investment. So the fact that you may be a viable entrepreneur and you can you know, duck, dive and wave above by the best of it, that’s all well and good but you gotta understand that immigration department applies to the security of you that are mandate to make sure that they don’t approve foreigners who set up business here that have access to red label broker credit terms that you can find in Hong Kong and basically you know spend your way to disaster, trail of Hong Kong creditors on your way so even though you may have,maybe you made a license peripheral stuff to crack on with it, with very little capital using all year, argument and natural skills the immigration department don’t actually do not place a great deal creations on that. You still have to have a body of cash behind you to support yourself while doing this.
Mike: Got it. It kinda gives me a followup question. So if I answer investment visa issued, do I have more advantages on business?
Steve: Well, once you get investment visa, the immigration will approve you initially for 12 months to undertake the work you’re planning to do to promote that business as reflected in your business planning that you’ve told the immigration department is going to do on how you gonna spending your time in the context of that company and that company so you can get approval but just to do that business nothing else. Now, if opportunity put the things developed that perhaps you need to private half way through you often do something else because 1st activity is not working, that’s okay. Bear in mind that some point you even have to report that to the immigration but you won’t have to report that, the point where you privative but if, as they usually do this type of start up scenario, they grant you an approval subject to business reviews at the end of the first 12 months, so then the first 12 months immigration department will going to lift up the full and everything you’re doing in the business so if you privative in the meantime you have to explain to them. The more importantly they’re looking to see that through the lackluster performance that you have in fact been engaged in the activities that they can objectively conclude, willing to you to make a substantial contribution to the economy of Hong Kong. So you get the approval to performance, saying ok, we like your story, we believe you, see to it at 12 months mark, 80% of new business situations do not very well capitalized, tend to get approve subject to business reviews 12 months will lift up. If they do not subject to business reviews, if they really like your story from get go, then you will get what I call a freeing clear approval which means that the 12 months mark, the process to get your first extension is really just manage to get bags and you can expect that you’ll can go on to get 3 limits of stays and then you go and get numbers 1- 2, 2 -3 years pass which gives you a potential full 8 years in Hong Kong, to managing, directing, control that business. At the seventh or most people do taking constant history in temporary residents here, they want to application for permanent residency and up there absorbs same responsibility to have keep working in that business because this is a permanent residency and actually you can employ or engage your own business without further reference in the immigration department.
Mike: Got it. Wow! That’s a lot of information. So just to recap, after you get an investment visa, even if you passed, another 12 months later you’re gonna have to fly, go back,
Steve: There’s an 80% chance that they will subject your initial approval to business review.
Mike: Okay and then if you passed that usually, you have 2 years.
Steve: And if marginally, strike through that 12 months then you’d expect to business review, if you have created local jobs if you don’t have much cash in the tank. If you have been able to meet your revenue projection whatever it is, you know, just be in reasonable milestone in the first 12 months. If you have achieved that, you may find immigration department really extends you up to 2 years but then they can give you 12 months and that is subject to business approval again at the end first 12 months. But if you have a good story and slippy on the text phase and halfway supply of cash there’s no reason to expect that they respond and they will say no based in my experience.
Mike: Great! Okay. Lastly, there’s a lot of listeners that wanted to contact you. We’ll put your website upon the website too but what’s your…
Steve: Oh! We have a number of websites. We have a website which is called the HongKongVisahandbook.com and that’s basically our foundation content. It’s a DIY definitive guide to Hong Kong process. No singing, No Dancing completely free of charge, no registration required and textbook if you will, although it got videos, screencast, podcast, templates, the whole shooting match, all completely free of charge, hongkongvisahandbook.com. Tthen I do daily immigration content of the site blog called hongkongvisageeza.com and I post on that 4, 5 actually on my mind 7 times a week i don’t usually plan this so that feeds you sorts of updates of information, all completely free charge.
Mike: Great! Yes, it’s really great and we will linked that on golbalfromasia.com/episode4.
Steve: I have a, I’m gonna be Shenzhen, a week on Friday, you might put on your show notes at the boathouse. I think.
Mike: Oh, yeah.
Steve: I’m giving a talk. Oh! Not Friday, Thursday it is.
Steve:At the boathouse, yeah.
Steve: So perhaps if you put the link in your show, the people listening to me, I’ll talk about my favorite subject live.
Mike: Okay. You’re very passionate and you’re also good Internet Marketer. Your blog and your content and your handbooks, you also know a lot of listeners are Internet Marketers too. So we like the, you are also up in the game.
Steve: Our marketing was built in by design and our product is driven from marketing of inspector.
Mike: Great! That’s definitely the right way to do it. So alright. I guess if there is any last points right before we end here.
Steve: Right. I wanna, just so basically, carries anyone that is thinking about Hong Kong to understand that Hong Kong is very open. W are set and very welcoming and what might have been your early experience from the immigration agency if been to either Thailand or China, don’t expect that you’ll have that kind of experience in Hong Kong. We have very rule of law, incorruptible public service at the immigration department. We have a customer service mandate, very open, accessible and friendly but there’s a lot of stuffs that you can have access to because the immigration department play the role of gamekeeper and coucher at the same time at their website is designed to inform and not give you advice and the immigration department shows to inform and decide not to advice. So a lot of people look at Hong Kong immigration department website, they look at investment visa category and they say “Oh just get to put these document, fill this forms and i’m home and hopes.” It doesn’t work like that. There’s a 4 -6 months interrogative process where you have to show that you can make that substantial contribution to the economy of Hong Kong and if you can do it, clean and honest enough, you got the money, you got the will, you made a right entrepreneurial stuff, you have 95% chance of getting what you’re looking for and that’s how it works.
Mike: Great! Okay. Thank you so much. I’m sure we, I enjoyed you talk a lot. Thanks, thanks a lot.
To get more info about running a business via Hong Kong please visit our website at www.globalfromasia.com that’s www.globalfromasia.com. Also be sure to subscribe to our iTunes feed. Thanks for tuning in.