How to request a quarantine exemption for Hong Kong (as Nicole Kidman did)
Sarah Berkeley, Partner, and Wendy Wong, Associate Director, Simmons & Simmons explain exactly how the Quarantine Waiver Program works and who is eligible.
Hollywood star Nicole Kidman sparked outrage and intense public debate last month when she was spotted in an upscale clothing store two days after arriving in Hong Kong, a city known to have some of the measurements strictest quarantine systems in the world.
In response, Hong Kong Bureau of Commerce and Economics issued a statement to the media, stating that “the case under discussion was allowed to travel to Hong Kong with a quarantine exemption for the purpose of performing designated professional work, taking into account that it is conducive to the maintenance of the necessary functioning and development of the Hong Kong economy “.
Similarly, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) issued a Circular to approved companies – Exemption for senior executives of approved companies May 28, 2021 and a update June 21, 2021 to exempt certain senior executives of licensed companies from certain mandatory quarantine provisions. The SFC hoped the relaxed measures could help maintain relatively normal economic activity in financial markets and maintain Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The main characteristics of the exemption regime, as set out in the quarantine exemption circulars (exemption regime) are listed below.
Two types of executives are eligible for the exemption, subject to a monthly quota per approved company, as summarized below:
- Return frames – These are senior executives of an approved company with global or regional roles who return to Hong Kong after traveling to foreign countries. The trip abroad must be primarily intended for the management of the entities of the group for which they are responsible.
- Visiting executives – These are global or regional executives or senior executives of financial institutions with which an authorized company is affiliated, who travel to Hong Kong. Travel to Hong Kong should be primarily for the purpose of running the licensed company.
Note: Executives who have stayed in “extremely high risk” or “very high risk” locations specified in Group A1 or Group A2 as stated on the Hong Kong government website during the 21 days prior to arrival in Hong Kong are not eligible for the exemption scheme.
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The exemption regime is a welcome attempt to address concerns about the slower pace of Hong Kong’s reopening compared to other major business centers around the world. However, some concerns still need to be resolved.
To begin with, the definition of ‘senior manager’ is rather ambiguous – it is not clear whether this requires, for example, a managerial position, given the requirement that the primary purpose of the stated trip must be related to the job. management of the company or its group entities.
In addition, the scope of the exemption regime is quite narrow, which raises the question to what extent the exemption regime can serve an important business purpose.
For example, the SFC is likely to reject any application whose nature of the trip is primarily personal (for example, when the senior manager returns to his home country for family visits but organizes management meetings at the end of the trip) ; or (ii) the business activities of the itinerary are considered non-essential or not for management purposes (eg meetings with clients and, arguably, conferences that could have been held virtually).
Contrary to widespread international press reporting, even if an application is approved, the exemption is far from a complete waiver of the entire quarantine period, i.e. senior executives are only allowed to leave as the designated quarantine hotel or accommodation arranged by the licensed company. for approved activities set out in the SFC pre-approved itinerary, using restricted and compliant “point-to-point transport”.
Equally demanding are the requirements imposed on licensed companies.
For example, licensed companies are responsible for organizing point-to-point transport and ensuring compliance with relevant guidelines which cover, among other things, strict disinfection and measures to be taken for other parties such as the driver and the driver. vehicle company. It would be difficult for any licensed company to know whether the aforementioned parties are complying with these guidelines at all times. Due to the regulatory risk arising from a breach, compliance officers and responsible officers may find it difficult to effectively monitor these requirements.
While the exemption program highlights the efforts of the Hong Kong government to resume normal economic activities, the implementation of the quarantine exemption circulars faces challenges. The requirements may need to be reassessed to provide more flexibility for senior executives in planning their schedules and to ease the burden on licensed companies with respect to compliance, so that the exemption regime can benefit a larger group. and achieve its goal.
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