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Cathay’s foreign pilots granted visa renewals while cabin crew are refused

written by Hannah Dowling | June 18, 2021
Part of the Cathay Pacific fleet grounded at Hong Kong Airport in March 2020 (Photo by ANTHONY WALLACE via Getty Images)

Hong Kong immigration authorities have agreed to renew the visas of Cathay Pacific’s expat pilots currently based in Hong Kong, however will not provide the same for the airline’s foreign cabin crew.

The decision is likely to see Cathay’s expat cabin crew forced to leave their jobs, a fact that the airline expressed regret over in a staff memo sent on Thursday.

However, Cathay has promised to lodge appeals on behalf of certain cabin crew with desirable skills, including those with Japanese and Korean language skills, according to the South China Morning Post.

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The airline will also offer the remaining affected cabin crew with the same voluntary redundancy packages it had on offer earlier this year.

The airline has battled against Hong Kong immigration officials since late last year, when the Immigration Department began to only offer short-term visa renewals to foreign staff of just three months, in lieu of the standard renewal period of two to three years.

According to SCMP, pilots who have been offered renewed visas have seen their renewal period vary based on the aircraft they fly.

For example, 747 pilots and training captains were offered three-year renewals, likely off the back of strong demand for the airline’s 747 freighter services, while Airbus A350 and Boeing 777 pilots were offered one-year renewals, and A330 pilots were offered just six-month renewals.

It is believed that immigration authorities are tightening up on visa renewals for aviation in light of a growing number of local unemployed skilled workers, particularly following the shutdown of Cathay’s regional offshoot Cathay Dragon last year.

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The airline has long been reliant on foreign workers, many of which have converted to permanent residents of Hong Kong over the years.

In a memo to cabin crew, Cathay’s director of service delivery Alex McGowan said the airline had made the “strongest possible case” to push authorities to renew their visas.

“Despite our best efforts I’m sincerely sorry to report that we have been advised that no current applications for these work permit renewals will be approved,” he said.

“It is a condition of the renewal of a work permit that the role cannot be taken up readily by the workforce available in Hong Kong. It is on this basis that we understand that the decision has been made.”

A Cathay spokesperson confirmed the details of the visa renewals, and said the airline understands “work permits for pilots will continue to be renewed on an ongoing basis and that, over time, longer extensions will be granted”.

The spokesperson said the airline was offering its “utmost support to those who sadly will have to leave us”.

“We appreciate that these developments may cause some concern for our aircrew whose work permits are due to expire in the coming months, and we are providing what support we can to anyone in this situation,” the spokesperson added.

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