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Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific has experienced more rigorous scrutiny from immigration authorities, making obtaining and retaining work visas for expatriate pilots more difficult, it was reported in the SCMP.

In a memo to Cathay pilots earlier this month, Chris Kempis – the airline’s director of flight operations – wrote that the company understood that the “Immigration Department is reviewing renewals with greater scrutiny”.

Kempis added that Cathay was “in active dialogue with the appropriate decision makers” at immigration, and appreciated that the development had created “a degree of anxiety among those affected”.

The newspaper also revealed that a number of pilots with the airline were being given work permit renewals of just three months compared with the previous two- or three-year visa renewals.

When it comes to foreign nationals, Hong Kong’s immigration policy states that they can be hired under the General Employment Policy (GEP) that includes determining factors such as a genuine job vacancy, a confirmed offer of employment, and the work cannot readily be undertaken by a Hong Kong local.

In truth, it’s a condition of employment that exists in many jurisdictions around the world.

However, concerns remain that the current situation regarding expat pilots may leave the airline short of specific aviation skills – particularly when flying freight aircraft.

“The impact is not about the visa, it is about holding up the economy of Hong Kong and not hurting Hong Kong as an aviation hub. And if a major airline cannot get pilots to operate a freighter, who is going to ship the vaccines to Hong Kong?” a source told the newspaper.