Hong Kong Internship Regulations
Interested in hiring interns? You must!
Hiring interns is a good way to have motivated young people working at your company for very reasonable rates.
This short article will provide practical guidelines for Hong Kong startups and Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to provide proper internships that are worthwhile for both the intern and the company. The content is based on a thorough research of publicly available government material about the topic.
Before a company starts recruiting interns, here are several important rules and documents that they must be aware of:
- The Minimum Wage Ordinance (Cap. 608)
The first would be the Minimum Wage Ordinance which helped establish the Statutory Minimum Wage (SMW). The aim of SMW is to strike an appropriate balance between forestalling excessively low wages and minimising the loss of low-paid jobs. The aimed result is to sustain Hong Kong’s economic growth and competitiveness at large.
The SMW is expressed as an hourly rate. In short, the wages payable to an employee (including intern) should be no less than the rate established by SMW on average for the number of hours worked. As of 2021, the Hong Kong Government confirmed that the SMW rate will remain unchanged at HK$37.50 per hour.
The Minimum Wage Ordinance are closely aligned with those of the Employment Ordinance Cap 57 (check: https://www.labour.gov.hk/eng/public/ConciseGuide.htm for more detail) due to the major provisions both shared (definition of wages and employment). The regulations are enacted to ensure effective and consistent enforcement, avoid confusion to employers and employees and minimise the compliance cost for employers. Additionally, under these regulations (SMW, EO, and MWO), it is illegal for companies to host or to commence unpaid internships. However, it is worth noting that SMW does not apply to specified student interns as well as work experience students during a period of exempt student employment.
2. Student Interns and Work Experience Students
At the first glance, many employers would think that the two terms are one and the same. However, it is not so. There are some specific and key differences between the two terms. According to Hong Kong Labour Department (2017):
Student Intern is a student undergoing a period of work arranged or endorsed by a local education institution specified in Schedule 1 (check :https://www.elegislation.gov.hk/hk/cap608!en@2017-02-15T00:00:00). The work is a compulsory or part of the elective component of the requirements of a full-time accredited programme being provided by the institution to the student; or
The Student Intern must be a student resident in Hong Kong and undergoing a period of work arranged or endorsed by an institution, and the work is a compulsory or elective component of the requirements of a full-time education programme for a non-local academic qualification at degree.
On the other hand, work experience student is a student who is enrolled in a full-time accredited programme provided by a local education institution who’s also specified in the Schedule 1 of the Minimum Wage Ordinance; or they’re a student who is resident in Hong Kong and enrolled in a full-time education programme for a non-local academic qualification at degree or higher level. A work experience student must be under the age of 26 at the start of the employment and may agree with the employer to have a continuous period of up to 59 days as exempt student employment if :
(a) the student has not commenced another student employment within the same calendar year
(b) the student has made a statutory declaration verifying the fact above and provided said declaration to their employer.
3. Non-local interns and documents
According to the policies for non-local students set up by the Immigration Department, which was effective since 2014:
- The internships must be curriculum-related and be endorsed by the universities or institutions at which the non-local students are studying. Universities will provide a No-Objection Letter (NOL) which will be sent at the same time as the Student Visa.
- The duration of the internship (be it winter or summer internship, etc) is up to one academic year
It is absolutely necessary for the student to keep all the necessary documents and provide them (or copies) to the companies or the education institutions. Some of the relevant documents are:
- NOL, HKID, and Student Visa (Companies will ask for these documents)
- Offer Letter (to be approved by the university)
- Employment/internship Contract
- Reference Letter
It is very important for companies to be very careful in the forging of their employment contracts as any mistakes can lead to misunderstanding or even legal action. According to the Hong Kong Labour Department, a written employment contract reminds both employers and employees of their obligations, which helps them to avoid possible disputes and clearly sets out the rights and benefits of both parties.
Finding all of this information through government websites can be confusing as they provide abundant information. The amount of information and rules can sometimes be overwhelming for startups or SMEs and dissuade/intimidate them from hiring interns.
This article summarized all the important details about Hong Kong regulations regarding internships. Companies should make sure that they follow the established rules before they start their hiring process to avoid any legal issues that can hinder their growth. Do not hesitate to contact the legal and related departments should you have any enquiries or concerns regarding the recruitment process.
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