Pilot scheme for visa-free arbitration in Hong Kong launched

Out-Law News | 07 Jul 2020 | 10:11 am | 2 min. read

The Hong Kong Government has launched a pilot scheme to facilitate the hearing of arbitrations seated in Hong Kong.

The scheme will allow eligible non-Hong Kong residents participating in arbitral proceedings in Hong Kong to be exempted from the requirement to obtain a work visa in Hong Kong. In order to benefit from the scheme, individuals need to be nationals of one of the about 170 countries and territories who can visit Hong Kong visa-free.

The scheme covers arbitrators, expert and factual witnesses, counsel in the arbitration and parties to the arbitration. They will be able to participate in proceedings for the current visa-free period for visitors to Hong Kong from the country or territory in which they are resident.

Arbitration expert Mohammed Talib of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said the scheme would be an important improvement to the competitiveness of Hong Kong as a dispute resolution hub for the region.

“The Hong Kong government has shown a sustained commitment to the development of Hong Kong as an international arbitration hub. For some time now, the Immigration Department has provided a dedicated support service for those who required employment visas to participate in arbitrations which in practice has made it effective and efficient to obtain such visas,” Talib said.

“The pilot scheme makes it easier to conduct hearings in Hong Kong by removing the need to apply for an employment visa at all. This brings Hong Kong into line with other major arbitration centres such as Singapore which allow those participating in arbitrations to do so on a visitor visa,” Talib said.

Individuals wanting to participate in the scheme will have to obtain a ‘Letter of Proof’. If the arbitration is administered by an arbitral institution, the letter must be issued by one of the designated arbitral and dispute resolution institutions and permanent offices in Hong Kong, including the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission Hong Kong and the International Chamber of Commerce Asia Office.

Where the arbitration is not administered but uses the hearing facilities of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre or the Department of Justice, then the letter can be issued by one of those bodies as well.

The Hong Kong government said the pilot scheme was intended to strengthen Hong Kong's position as an international centre for legal and dispute resolution services in the Asia-Pacific region, and be in line with China’s ‘belt and road’ development strategy as well as the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area Development.

The pilot will run on a trial basis for two years and may be extended in the future to eligible individuals from other countries, including the Chinese mainland.

Talib said the immediate impact of the pilot scheme was likely to be limited, as current Covid-19 related measures in Hong Kong mean that until further notice all non-Hong Kong residents coming from overseas countries and regions by plane will be denied entry to Hong Kong. Similarly, non-Hong Kong residents coming from mainland China, Macao and Taiwan will be denied entry to Hong Kong if they have been to any overseas countries and regions in the past 14 days.