By Leon Ieong Meng U*
Macau’s economy is obviously miserable now. Even without the COVID-19, VIP Baccarat – the main source (in general 45%) of gambling revenue – would be ruined as the central government regarded it as a national security loophole. Because taxes on gambling gross revenue contributed to roughly 80 per cent of the overall government revenue, a simple calculation would know what it means to Macau ─ a loss of tens of billions.
If we think one step further – consideringthe huge social welfare commitments listed onthe annual policy address the government – exploringthe new tax source becomes an extremely urgent task before the city’s fiscal reserves run out.
In the latest policy address, the government provided a vision that Macau needs to undergo industrial transformation through regional cooperation (e.g., Hengqin) with specific priority given to Chinese medicine, finance, high-tech, exhibitions, cultureand sports events. Macau has virtually no experience in some of the above-mentioned industries in historyand I am not going to discuss its feasibility here. What I am going to discuss isgiven that the blueprint does come into fruition, how talent should be treated, aseven a layperson knowswithout the investment in human capital, industrial transformation is akin to building thecastle in the air.
Developing a talent attraction scheme is a common channel for cross-national/regionalmigration, as brain drain would significantly undermine national/localeconomy in the era ofknowledge economy. The current talent scheme has been handled by the Macau Trade and Investment Promotion Institute (IPIM) since 2005. IPIM did not openly provide the exact number of applicants who successfully transitioned from blue card holders to non-permanent residents in the past twenty years. However, an investigation report carried out by the Commission Against Corruption (CCAC) reveals that the figure stood at 5,376 between 2008 and 2017, less than 600 people a year. This may mean that either the local supply of skilled professionals is sufficient or the admission rate is low. According to the Statistics and Census Service (DSEC), professional blue card holders onaverage earn 5.5% to 72.4% more than local employees, theformer being less likely to be the reason. Then what makes the current talent scheme unfavourable?
The new talent scheme bill, which has been approved at first reading last week by the Legislative Assembly, gives an excellent summary onthe shortcomings in the old system, such asfor examplean opaque qualification evaluation, while the application procedure is cumbersome and time-consuming. The situation became worse since 2018 after the misconducts from the former IPIM director were exposed; the admission was nearly completely stagnant.
Let me give you some idea of the dilemma professional blue holders who are stuck in the procedure now suffer. According to an internal survey conducted by the Academic Staff Association of the University of Macau, half of the talent scheme applicants have to wait more than one year before knowing the outcome. Even it was admitted, 30% applicants said it takes at least two years to renew the status (usually the applicants had to renew three times before they become permanent resident). For the above-mentioned reason, even applicants who had already seen their non-permanent residency accepted,the renewal of residency is unpredictable because the IPIM has a discretionary legal interpretation that may change over time. The worst-case scenario isone applicant having received green light totheir renewal request, but his family members don’t, after waiting for almost 7 years. As a result, from childreneducation to family reunion, their future planning was turnupside down, as they had to leave Macau, even without the strict border restrictions adopted following the pandemic.
As one colleague of mine said, “as a professional, I don’t worry about finding a position somewhere else”. Talent flows globally. The Macau SAR government must bear in mind that it is indeed competed with other countries and regions. In the new talent scheme, in my opinion, quite a lot of shortcomings remain, but at least the government declared for the record that Macau needs talent. However, for applicants who have already waited so long under the current system, the government can’t take “old for the old rules” as granted without providing a clear timeline as to when they will give them a decision. In the worst case, these “old” applicants may either not be considered “talent” in the new scheme or receive admission but have to wait for another 7 years. If that happened, it would not only undermine the reputation of the Macau SAR government but also send out a very negative message to potential applicants.
Give them a decision, for God’s sake.
By Leon Ieong Meng U*