Statistics show that by January 2006, 17 per cent of Macau's total foreign workforce were Hong Kong residents, with most of them employed in the building and construction sector.
"This has been a phenomenal transition," says Francisca Vong, head of the Employment Department at Macau's Labour Affairs Bureau. "Hong Kong people recruited to work here used to be mainly middle managers for banks and overseas firms."
Things started to change a few years ago, mainly because of the booming hotel and tourism industry. New hotels, casinos and entertainment centres are going up all the time and the 4th East Asian Games, held in late 2005, also created extra work in the construction field.
"The current focus on building facilities for conferences and exhibitions means that opportunities will continue for professionals in construction," Ms Vong says.
She is confident that employees will be able to move from one project to the next at least for the next five or six years. In this way it will be possible to gain diverse experience and develop a career in Macau.
Despite strong demand in the hospitality and construction sectors, the Employment Department has no priorities or special arrangements for specific industries. "We aim to take care of the needs of all sectors on an impartial basis," says Ms Vong.
The first thing a non-resident job seeker requires is a work visa. The application process is straightforward and usually takes three months to complete. "The company should make available all relevant information for inspection and analysis," Ms Vong says. "That includes their business registration, the personal particulars of prospective employees, details of the project planned, and the number of employees needed." Once approval is received, the final step is to complete the necessary immigration procedures, which is easily done for anyone with a Hong Kong identity card.
Ms Vong believes that many Hong Kong workers are attracted by Macau's tax regime. A 25 per cent discount on income tax payments was introduced in 2002 and the standard rate ranges from 7 to 12 per cent on incomes of over HK$11,000 per month.
"This discount is subject to review each year," says Ms Vong. "But we are very optimistic about the economic situation, so it is likely to continue."
The good quality of life in Macau is also an obvious attraction. The government is actively promoting this and has even set up a committee to examine how it can be improved further. "There is less traffic here and it takes most people no more than 20 minutes to get to work," Ms Vong adds. "The atmosphere is generally considered more relaxed than in Hong Kong."
She points out that many people moving to Macau are middle managers or above, who are well educated and usually have little trouble adapting. "They know how to look after themselves and will have sorted out contractual terms with their employer concerning remuneration and housing allowances before they move," she says.
If things go wrong, the department is always there to help out, but so far there have been few complaints or disputes.
Before submitting applications to hire from Hong Kong, companies must first check the local market. The intention is that anyone granted a work visa is brought in to supplement local talent and fill genuine skills gaps.
Sensing that local people might be concerned by the increased competition, the Macau government has sought to explain that during a period of economic growth, extra labour is needed. "If we have insufficient human resources locally, there has to be hiring from outside," Ms Vong says.
The Employment Department carefully checks a company's actual needs and has noted that employees from Hong Kong are highly regarded for their skills, knowledge and willingness to work hard.
In Ms Vong's view, Macau's employment market will continue to boom and new positions will be created in many different industries. Employers will need to think about retention plans and to ensure that remuneration packages remain competitive. "There may even be a tendency to hop between jobs," she predicts. "That will mean people are more confident about their own abilities, as well as the employment market."