Hong Kong’s growing exodus impacts schools and hospitals

The Nikkei Asia has reported that the impact of the exodus from Hong Kong is already being felt in the education and health care sectors with the total number of emigrants expected to peak around the end of this year or in 2022 and may total some 100,000 (according to one estimate).

The Nikkei Asia then went on to note that the signs of change are emerging as a dreaded drain of highly skilled workers is becoming a reality:

  • Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority, which administers public hospitals, revealed that 4.6% of its doctors and 6.5% of its nurses had resigned in the year to the end of June. It said one of the reasons for the resignations was relocation.
  • A local media outlet has reported that a veteran doctor who specialized in sophisticated heart surgery at a children’s hospital has decided to move out of Hong Kong, sparking concerns that patient care might be affected.
  • According to a survey by Comptify Analytics, a private human resources consultancy, 41% of Hong Kong’s key companies said the percentage of employees resigning increased in the first half of this year compared to the period a year earlier.
  • In a report on financial services workers issued earlier this month, Hong Kong’s Financial Services Development Council said there were moves by families to relocate seeking better health care and education for their children.

The article ended by noting how Hong Kong’s development was supported by people fleeing confusion on the mainland. As a rapidly changing city where people come and go constantly, Hong Kong was sometimes described as a “borrowed place.” However, the people currently moving out are those who grew up in Hong Kong and consider it their hometown.

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How Japan risks losing its shine for foreign workers

The Nikkei Asia has reported growing concerns in Japan that indispensable foreign workers will turn away from its domestic industry in the near future. Traditionally reluctant to accept immigrants, Japan has a technical intern training program for foreign workers for the official purpose of assisting developing nations. But this on-the-job training system is often subject to questions about human rights and has often been criticized for a variety of abuses – including unpaid wages, violence and sexual harassment.

The reliance of the Japanese economy on foreign workers has greatly increased. However, it is uncertain whether Japan can continue to retain foreign workers in the medium to long term.

The article noted that according to a 2020 report by the International Monetary Fund, when a nation’s gross domestic product tops $2,000 per capita, the number of migrants to emerging countries decreases; and when its GDP reaches $7,000 per capita, migration to advanced economies begins to decline.

Vietnam, which has replaced China as the largest source of trainees in Japan, saw its GDP reach $2,785 per capita in 2020. That figure is expected to reach $7,000 early in the 2030s if it maintains economic growth at 7%, the average over the past decade. Countries such as Myanmar and Nepal are expected to take over Vietnam’s current position in light of such factors as their wage gaps and populations. 

Meanwhile and according to a 2020 report by the International Organization for Migration, China is shifting to being a net recipient of migrants. This means Japan will begin to vie with China for foreign workers after 2025 if not earlier.

The Nikkei Asia article concluded by pointing out that experts say if Japan wants to continue to attract foreign trainees, it must work with source countries to settle the problem of high commissions as well as create domestic conditions enabling foreign nationals to work with a sense of security.

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Taiwan’s COVID rules bar foreign workers from entering or leaving

The Nikkei Asia has an article noting how COVID and complicated visa rules have some foreigners both inside and outside Taiwan left in the lurch with no sign of when their situation will change, although an exemption was recently made for degree-seeking international students.

There are around 789,000 foreigners in Taiwan, the vast majority of whom need a work permit from the Department of Labor, a resident visa to enter Taiwan from the Bureau of Consular Affairs, and an alien resident certificate (ARC) from the National Immigration Agency to be able to work legally and re-enter the island. During the COVID pandemic, the ARC has become essential to be able to fly in and out.

Different classes of visas and work permits also come with an array of requirements e.g. cram school teachers require a different health check prior to receiving a work permit than a factory worker or a Chinese language-student. Spouses of visa-holders have their own health check while Gold Card applicants do not need one.

Switching between visa classes typically requires an individual to leave Taiwan and re-enter unless they are among its approximately 39,500 foreign professionals. They are the only foreigners who have the right to convert their visa on Taiwanese soil from a visitor visa or visa exemption to a residency visa once they obtain a work permit, although gold card holders enjoy more flexibility.

However, a respected China expert who was offered Taiwan’s prestigious gold card, a special resident permit reserved for expert professionals, but who’s family got locked out was quoted by the Nikkei Asia as saying:

“It seems to me Taiwan risks really losing out by not finding a point of flexibility within continued border restrictions… The frustrating things are the lack of clear communication about conditions for issuing visas and the apparent disconnect between the vigilance (against COVID-19) argument and the refusal to allow foreign nationals with a valid reason for being in Taiwan.”

The Nikkei Asia noted that much of relevant visa or COVID information is not available online in either Chinese or English, which has led to some nasty surprises even for people with job offers or university acceptance letters. An American lawyer was quoted as saying:

“There’s a real tendency in Taiwan where they don’t want to give the low-level civil servants who make these decisions about visa applications a whole lot of latitude. I think maybe in the past there were concerns about possible corruption, but these days it’s just felt they should have black and white lines they should operate in, so they make these strict, overly broad rules that are not public.”

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Taiwan to invest $300M in grad schools to stem chip brain drain

The Nikkei Asia has reported how Taiwanese authorities and major chipmakers are investing at least $300 million to create graduate programs for the semiconductor industry over the next decade. The move aims to protect the island’s chip economy as the USA and China seek to cultivate their own talent and bring production onshore. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s biggest chipmaker, and local peers such as MediaTek and Powerchip Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. have also told Nikkei Asia they would endorse the campaign to build additional high-end chip schools.

President Tsai Ing-wen and Vice Premier Shen Jong-chin pushed the talent cultivation plan when major companies requested state assistance to solve the talent shortage around May last year. A person with direct knowledge told Nikkei Asia:

“More than a dozen chip companies — from design, manufacturing to packaging and testing — actively participated in the discussions for chip schools, as they foresee that demand for high-skilled chip talent will be even higher in the coming years, and that this is an imminent problem that needs to be solved soon.”  

Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, second globally to the USA, has been suffering from insufficient talent for years as the sector continues to pursue cutting-edge technologies. Ministry of Education data shows the number of Ph.D. students majoring in tech-related fields dropped from 23,261 in 2010 to 16,950 in 2020.

The Nikkei Asia article also noted a recent supply chain review report by the White House that said the country “has an immediate need for highly skilled workers in the semiconductor industry” as 77% of surveyed chip executives said the industry is facing a critical talent shortage. The report added:

“As China increasingly seeks out foreign talent, retaining these students in the United States serves to both bolster the domestic semiconductor industry and prevents competitors from acquiring the talent necessary to surpass the United States.”

Meanwhile, China has said that a lack of chip talent is one of the country’s biggest hurdles to building a competitive local chip industry. The country has been increasing the number of microelectronics schools over the past few years as an additional 230,000 engineers will be required by 2022 to keep up with demand.

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Taiwan bans recruitment for jobs in China to combat brain drain

The Nikkei Asia has reported that Taiwan has told staffing companies to remove all listings for jobs in China to prevent the outflow of vital tech talent to the mainland. More specifically, the Labor Ministry said that all Taiwanese and foreign staffing companies on the island may no longer post openings for jobs located in China – especially those involving critical industries such as integrated circuits and semiconductors.

Recruitment platforms and headhunters are also barred from helping or representing any company in efforts to hire individuals for work in mainland China. Violators face fines from the ministry and (according to a notice) “if the recruitment involves semiconductors and integrated circuits, the penalty will be even higher.”

The new rules also apply to Taiwanese businesses such as iPhone assemblers Foxconn and Pegatron that have massive manufacturing bases in China. According to one job board spokesperson, such companies will “have to remove all of their job listings on the platform first, and then put them back on under their Chinese subsidiaries, which are already approved by Taiwan’s Investment Commission for operating in China.”

The Nikkei Asia went on to note that:

  • More than 100 employees have been hired from top global chipmaker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. by Chinese state-backed chip projects Quanxin Integrated Circuit Manufacturing (Jinan), better known as QXIC, and Wuhan Hongxin Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (HSMC), though the latter has been terminated.
  • Leading Chinese smartphone makers Xiaomi and Oppo have recruited semiconductor veterans from Taiwan’s MediaTek, the world’s second-largest mobile chip developer, to boost their own chip ambition.
  • Luxshare-ICT, the top Chinese contract electronics maker that hopes one day to challenge Foxconn, has lured talent from Foxconn and metal casing supplier Catcher Technology.

Taiwanese prosecutors also allege that China’s Bitmain Technologies, the world’s leading cryptocurrency mining chip developer, illegally lured more than 100 engineers in Taiwan to boost its artificial intelligence prowess.

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COVID has wiped out the economic dreams of a generation in Asia

Bloomberg has reported on how Asia’s fast-growing economies for decades have offered millions of young people the chance to do better than their parents. However, this path to upward mobility is now at risk as youth unemployment soars in a region home to a majority of the world’s 15- to 24-year-olds.

These young people (who are just at the start of their working lives) are losing jobs at a faster rate than older generations. This is due to almost half being clustered in the four economic sectors hurt most by the COVID pandemic, including wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, business services and accommodations and food service.

According to the World Bank, the COVID shock is creating a class of “new poor” across East Asia and the Pacific with an additional 38 million people expected to be living in poverty. Bloomberg also quoted another expert who warned that the crisis will strain relations with older generations, put young people’s mental health at risk and is shaping up to be worse than any previous jobs crisis.

To potentially make matters worst, the labor market that emerges from the COVID crisis will likely mark an acceleration toward the gig economy. However, many won’t thrive in such an economy where informal work with no contracts is the norm and headline unemployment rates capture only some of the damage.

Bloomberg did note that some sectors like technology are still hunting for young people – offering a glimmer of hope for the young generation. Yet highly specialized skills are crucial in such sectors with one tech executive being quoted as saying:

“The IT industry is booming. Young workers, even university graduates, may earn less for a decade or even longer.”

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Chinese students rethink studying abroad in the US

The Nikkei Asia has a lengthy article about how Chinese students are rethinking studying abroad in the USA due to COVID and tensions between the USA and China albeit Chinese students demand for overseas education remains strong. In fact, the latest report by QS, an international higher education network, showed only 4% of surveyed Chinese students canceled their study abroad plan because of COVID.

However, a survey by Nikkei, distributed among foreign student organizations on a number of US campuses, showed that 24% of respondents were considering leaving the US, citing visa policies and the Trump administration as the chief reasons. A further 35% described themselves as “maybe” considering leaving. Among the 6,673 survey responses collected from 34 provinces in China, 42% of Chinese students would choose the U.K. over any other country for overseas education, with 37% of responses saying the US is their top choice.

Nevertheless, one Chinese student was quoted as saying that most Chinese students view their U.S. education as a ticket to land a job and start a new life there as “otherwise, the quality of education in the U.S. alone cannot justify its high tuition fees.” The article also quoted one Chinese student as saying:

“Although I’ve been regretting coming to the U.S. there is no denying that the country still has the best schools, resources, and some of the best people.”

Chinese students have already transformed the entire business model of American higher education as U.S. universities have come to depend on international students – mainly from the wealthy Chinese middle-class – to fill budget holes. Since the 1990s, state governments have pared back spending on state universities. Now, full tuition-paying foreign students, one-third of which are Chinese, are making up the balance of revenues.

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Brain drain in Malaysia: Why Malaysians don’t want to come back home

In response to another article (“Malaysia losing talent it needs to climb world ladder, Fitch unit says”) in the Malay Mail, Malaysian Rueben Ananthan Santhana Dass has written an excellent piece where he describes other factors contributing to Malaysia’s brain drain. Specifically, Dass noted:

…one of the prominent factors for brain drain in the country is the lack of suitable opportunities. The Malaysian economy is primarily centred around production and manufacturing rather than research and development. This results in a high demand for semi-skilled labour and a drastic lack of highly skilled job opportunities…..highly qualified professionals with research backgrounds and many PhD graduates are forced to ply their trade in foreign countries.

The job market in Malaysia also caters only exclusively to ‘traditional’ jobs such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, finance executives, etc. There are very few opportunities for individuals who choose to traverse the ‘road less travelled’, i.e. those who have studied niche subject areas such as the pure sciences or arts…

After making some government policy suggestions, Daas ended his piece by saying:

The grass is not always greener on the other side. Living abroad may look fancy on the outside but it is never an easy endeavour. Many have had to make numerous sacrifices. Most have had to endure the hardship of being separated from parents, siblings, loved ones, friends and family. Many have often had to miss out on celebrations and family events. Many have even had to make the difficult decision of being separated from their spouses and children just to be able to earn a living. Whilst some have voluntarily made the decision to go overseas for better remuneration, many who are there yearn to come home but are forced to stay put due to lack of opportunities back home… 

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China’s factories struggle without key import: Foreign talent

The Nikkei Asia has noted that while China’s internal lockdowns have been lifted, some makers of electronic parts remain cut off from a vital resource for expanding production: international talent. Travel restrictions have complicated the ability of engineers from Japan, the USA and other countries to travel to China to install new factory equipment. The article noted:

  • China’s leading LCD panel maker, BOE Technology Group, has been unable to carry out a planned expansion of its cutting-edge factory in Wuhan because Japanese technology advisers have returned home due to COVID. Without the advisers, the plant cannot install its latest machinery.
  • South Korea’s Samsung Electronics has recently launched a new memory chip plant in Xian, China, it’s second in the city. Technicians from Japan were supposed to help install equipment, but Chinese and Japanese travel restrictions have thrown up hurdles to their arrival. 
  • Netherlands-based ASML, the world’s largest maker of semiconductor etching systems, has reportedly delayed shipments owing to travel restrictions and logistics problems created by the COVID pandemic. 
  • Chinese chipmaker Tsinghua Unigroup’s Wuhan semiconductor plant is operating, but its expansion plans are reportedly at risk of delay.

These delays ultimately hit production of consumer electronics and make it more difficult to procure Chinese-made parts for finished product assembly outside of China.

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Key takeaways from surviving two layoffs in the oil & gas sector

Blogger and entrepreneur Helmi Hasan has written a fantastic post about his path towards becoming self-employed after experiencing two layoffs while working as an engineer in the oil & gas industry based in Singapore. Firstly, he described in full detail how the first layoff was brutal (“The Heartless Uncle Sam Lay Off”) while the second layoff (“The Polite Scottish Company Lay Off”) was handled more humanely.

When Hasan came back to Malaysia after the second layoff, he had had enough with the Oil & Gas industry and of being an employee. He also had two mortgages to pay off. That’s when he started an Airbnb business initially to cover his mortgage and then grew to a 10 studio business in Bukit Bintang (Kuala Lumpur). This venture also led to a spin-off personal finance blog.  

Hasan ended his post by offering the following key takeaways that every employee, especially expats, should heed:

  • If you start getting weird emails like a BCC email from HR, then you know you’re in the hot seat.
  • American companies will fire you just like in their movies.
  • I personally think the Oil & Gas industry is flawed. Usually, when the Arabs decide to go into a price war, massive layoffs will ensue.
  • If you have a very high salary and if anything happens to your job or industry, it’ll be very hard to find another job that can value you and pay you as much. (Feel free to prove my views wrong in the comments though).
  • I was lucky to not buy anything ridiculous when I had a job (like a luxury car or a big bike).
  • Saving enough money and not spending on useless items saved me twice. Smart personal finance is baked into my consciousness from these 2 events.
  • Everything is fine until it isn’t.
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