Career opportunities in GBA: Are professionals incentivised?
This article appeared originally in the Ejinsight on 6 Sep, 2021.
Authors: Renee Ho, Lead of Community Studies and Edison Au-Yeung, Research Intern at Our Hong Kong Foundation.
Under Beijing’s latest five-year development plan, Hong Kong is earmarked to be China’s centre of international legal and dispute resolution services for the Asia-Pacific. The inaugural Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA) Legal Professional Examination (Bay Area Exam), organised by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) of the People’s Republic of China, was held successfully on 31 July 2021 with approximately 650 candidates. The examination serves as an alternative to the National Unified Legal Professional Qualification Examination (National Examination), setting a new threshold for practising legal services in the GBA. This measure aims to facilitate talent exchange and fulfil the growing demand for cross-border legal services in the GBA.
The Community Studies team of Our Hong Kong Foundation (OHKF) published the first report on 5 August 2021, entitled “Greater Bay Area Opportunities: Survey and Analytical Observations” (GBA Study). In regard to the demand for talents, the study shows that the scope, requirements and procedures of mutual recognition of qualifications are pivotal in encouraging Hong Kong professionals to develop their careers in the GBA.
The legal sector is an infamous example of talent exchange between Hong Kong and the GBA being hindered by the accreditation system. Previously, Hong Kong legal professionals were only qualified to practise in the Mainland upon passing the National Examination organised by the MoJ. However, the difference between Mainland and Hong Kong legal systems was one of the biggest challenges for the local legal practitioners. They claimed that the time cost involved in further studies often deterred Hong Kong lawyers from enrolling. This situation was also reflected in the passing rates of Hong Kong candidates sitting for the National Examination (formerly known as the National Judicial Examination before 2017): according to the Hong Kong Department of Justice (DoJ), the passing rate is as low as 3.6% in 2016, followed by 10.1% and 14.8% in 2017 and 2019 respectively. The highest passing rate in recent years was recorded in 2018 at a mere 17.9%. Considering all these factors, Hong Kong legal professionals might feel discouraged in acquiring relevant qualifications in the Mainland.
In view of the industry’s opinions, the Mainland and Hong Kong governments have announced the implementation of the Bay Area Exam. From this year onwards, Hong Kong and Macao lawyers (including solicitors and barristers) with accumulated legal practice experience of 5 years or above, and who can write in Chinese and speak in Mandarin are allowed to enrol in this examination. Noticing the key aforementioned problems with the previous examination, the MoJ has adjusted the scope of examination, such as the addition of Basic Law-related content, as well as providing compulsory 7-day pre-examination legal training for the candidates. And for those who have passed the examination, further training courses will be arranged by the DoJ in co-operation with the MoJ to equip the candidates with practical knowledge to practise in civil and commercial cases in nine cities in the neighbouring Guangdong province. The move to allow Hong Kong lawyers to practise mainland law can hopefully assist mainland legal counterparts to connect with other parts of the world.
Under the current accreditation system, there is no mutual recognition of professional qualifications between the Mainland and Hong Kong in certain professional divisions. As exemplified by a surveyor interviewed in the GBA Study, he has no plans for working in the GBA due to his qualification not being recognized by the Mainland even though he has realised the potential market there. Similarly, among the 19 engineering divisions, only 4 of them are mutually recognised with the mainland GBA. However, in contrast to the surveyor, an interviewed engineer from one of those 4 divisions expressed his interest in working in the GBA. The stark contrast shows the importance of facilitating mutual recognition in more professions, which would provide an incentive for talents to develop their careers in the mainland GBA.
Unlike bay areas in Tokyo, New York and San Francisco, Hong Kong and other GBA cities are governed under different legal and economic systems. Therefore, the key to materialising a more integrated GBA is to overcome the disparities between GBA cities, especially those between Guangdong province, Macao, and Hong Kong. More importantly, the governments should further foster the mobility of talents by working on the mutual recognition of qualifications and re-examining relevant procedures. As such, Hong Kong can then capitalise on the tremendous momentum of the rapid economic growth of the GBA.