Hong Kong authorities have denied hundreds of work permits to Cathay Pacific pilots and therefore ultimately causing termination of their employment with the airline as aviation at the usually busy hub came to a standstill.
Many of these pilots were applying for a HK work permit the first time after Cathay has closed their overseas bases and were trying to relocate to Hong Kong which itself sees a huge surplus of local pilots from the former Cathay Dragon and other carriers.
Hong Kong has also renewed several hundred work permits of Cathay pilots however getting new into the embattled market where several hundred qualified locals are out of a job at the moment is an uphill battle.
Contracts with Cathay Pacific are linked to the ability of the pilot to secure a Hong Kong work permit, something which under normal circumstances has always been a mere formality that nobody needed to worry about but nowadays all new applications are being rejected.
As the South China Morning Post reports this affects several hundred Cathay pilots who will have no other chance than to take up early termination offers from the airline.
Immigration officials in Hong Kong have denied work visas to dozens of overseas Cathay Pacific pilots seeking to relocate to the city, the Post has learned, prompting the airline to terminate their employment.
Several dozen Cathay pilots had attempted to move from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Germany after the carrier shut down its foreign bases, putting about 280 skilled jobs at risk.
The employees were able to keep their job only on condition they secured a valid work visa for Hong Kong.
However, since the carrier axed its regional airline Cathay Dragon in October last year, creating a large pool of unemployed cockpit crew, not a single new work visa for a foreign pilot has been approved.
Cathay Pacific on Saturday confirmed the Immigration Department had rejected all visa applications from its overseas pilots, though it did not specify the number.
“We have been informed by the Immigration Department that the work permit applications from overseas-based pilots who have applied to relocate to Hong Kong have been rejected,” an airline spokeswoman said. “We are reaching out to support these officers, many of whom will have the opportunity to elect an enhanced termination benefit.”
Immigration data for the first eight months of the year showed 496 visa applications from non-local pilots, of which 73 were seeking a first-time work permit. All the applicants were subsequently rejected. Another 423 had sought an extension of an existing visa, of which 312 were approved.
Alex Jackson, chairman of the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association, which represents unionised pilots, expressed “great disappointment” in a memo to members.
“This decision was one made by the Hong Kong government, the options for a better resolution were limited and outside our control, especially in the current climate,” Jackson said. …
But a concern group for former Cathay Dragon pilots lauded the government’s approach.
“Four months have gone by since Cathay made promises to start re-employing local pilots, whilst a small number have indeed started working again, the vast majority are still jobless,” the group said in a statement.
Of the 300 out-of-work pilots holding local residency, it said, only 60 had been rehired by local airlines.
Cathay has historically employed a huge number of overseas pilots and these have always been great jobs as they’re extremely well paid and Hong Kong is a nice place to live.
With the tides turning both in political and economic terms, the latter mostly based on the pandemic it’s of no surprise that Cathay Pacific but especially Hong Kong (Beijing really) government is now trying to first protect local talent before continuing to dish out work permits to foreigners.
Cathay Pacific has been decimated by the pandemic. Hong Kong International Airport is like a ghost town and traffic severely limited. At the same time they still have a lot of staff under contract. They offered early termination packages to pilots, cabin crew and airport staff as recently as April:
With the employment conditions for foreigners being contingent upon the work visa I’m sure Cathay Pacific from a corporate side isn’t too sad that HK authorities are taking care of the surplus of pilots they currently have on the books while at the same time being able to say “this has nothing to do with us”.
This might be a rough period for pilots but I’m convinced that aviation is coming back like it did in Europe and the U.S. with pilots being in high demand soon enough as many of the old guard are retiring over the next decade. I wouldn’t be surprised if we actually see a pilot shortage before 2030.
I wonder if some of the affected pilots will suddenly find motivation to marry a local lady (flight attendant acquaintance) and try to obtain a dependent visa, then a work permit sometime after. These have gotten tougher to ontain as well though. Typically after 7 years as a dependent and residing in HK one can become a permanent resident of Hong Kong but with the CCP encroaching on ever more rights in Hong Kong this will probably change soon if it hasn’t already.
Cathay Pacific pilots seeking employment in Hong Kong are now being denied new work visas by local authorities, leading to termination of their contracts and therefore loss of employment. Some pilots with existing HKSAR work visas had theirs renewed so it seems that the primary focus right now is on keeping new applicants out while keeping the existing flight deck expats for the time being.
Hong Kong itself has a surplus of several hundred qualified, local pilots and the government is trying to protect the local labor market which is fair enough I’d say. I feel sorry for the chaps who served Cathay for years and decades but we have to realize that working and living abroad is always contingent upon being able to satisfy the legal requirements.