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Macau – Opaque visa laws may cause staffing problems

22 November 2013

As plans are announced for the expansion of Macau’s Cotai Strip, with its glittering casino-hotels, concerns have been raised about the low unemployment rate and opaque visa system for foreign workers, reports the South China Morning Post.

Less than 2% of the permanent residents in the city are unemployed, leaving many to question where the tens of thousands of workers for the new projects will be sourced.

There are two kinds of visas for overseas workers. Those with a tertiary education who are being hired at managerial level are granted a visa on an individual basis. But most visas, such as those for construction workers and waiting staff, are negotiated in bulk.

But under the labour law, companies that hire foreign workers are also required to employ a number of local staff. As fewer than 7,000 Macau residents are classified as unemployed, the manpower shortage has the potential to turn into a major crisis if the government doesn't act quickly.

Hiring foreign workers in Macau is challenging, as the government has never issued official guidelines on specific local/foreign recruitment quotas. The only exception is the construction industry, which has a ratio of one local worker for every foreign worker hired.

Jacinta Ho In-fong, Managing Director of JC Human Resources, commented: “The ratio is not stipulated in the law, and the government never announced the ratio for other industries, to allow for flexibility. A lot of people don’t know the ratio – in fact, none of us know.”

The opaqueness in the system has led to unsubstantiated accusations that the government favours casinos and allows them to hire more foreigners.

"SMEs have been hit hard since [former Macau chief executive] Edmund Ho's time. He announced special assistance to SMEs so that they might get faster approval [for visas], but there were no specifics. Those not from Macau who want to start up businesses have even greater challenges. The owner may not get a work permit for himself," Ms In-fong added. 

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