Starting an Employment Agency in Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Employment Ordinance defines an employment agency as “an establishment or person who aims at obtaining employment for another person or supplying personnel to an employer.”
In other words, an employment agency acts as a middleman between the employer and a potential employee. An employment agency can engage in the placement of local as well as foreign candidates for both junior level positions and senior management roles.
Note that an employment agency is often also referred as:
- Recruitment agency
- Staffing agency
- Placement agency
- Manpower agency
Most employment agencies in Hong Kong are required to apply for an employment agency license with the Hong Kong Labor Department before they can undertake any job placement business.
This guide provides information on how to obtain an employment agency license in Hong Kong.
Who Needs to Apply for an Employment Agency License?
Any company or person who undertakes a job placement business in Hong Kong requires the employment agency license. Note that a license is not required for employment agencies that are:
- Operated by or on behalf of the Hong Kong Government
- Operating under the Merchant Shipping (Seafarers) Ordinance
- Operated by employers solely for hiring employees for themselves
- Operated by contractors or sub-contractors to employ manual labor in relation to building works on behalf of an employer
- Operated by the proprietors of publications for non-profit purposes
- Operated by a recognized educational institution solely for the employment of its students or graduates
Employment agencies that do not require a license must apply for a ‘Certificate of Exemption of License’ from the Labor Department.
Pre-requisites for Employment Agency License
Prior to applying for an employment agency license, the following legal requirements must be satisfied:
- Company registration: You must first setup a Hong Kong company and obtain a Certificate of Incorporation from the Hong Kong Companies Registry. For details on how to setup a Hong Kong company, please refer to Hong Kong Company Registration guide.
- Nominated Operator: The company must nominate a real person as the agency operator. The operator is responsible for the day-to-day management and operation of the agency. The nominated operator could either be the director or an officer of the company and must either be a Hong Kong citizen, Hong Kong Permanent Resident or an Employment Visa holder. The person should neither be an undischarged bankrupt nor be convicted of any offence during the preceding 5 year period at the time of applying for the license.
- Placement of overseas domestic workers: The staff of an employment agency involved in the placement of overseas domestic workers must comply with the regulations concerning the employment of domestic helpers from abroad.
The employment agency license application procedure involves two steps:
- Approval of the proposed name of the employment agency and
- Documents submission to the Labor Department of Hong Kong
Step 1: Approval of Proposed Name
The first step in the license application procedure is approval of the proposed name of the employment agency you wish to set up. Name approval is obtained by submitting an application to the Hong Kong Labor Department. The proposed name can be rejected under the following circumstances:
- It is the same as or similar to a name of another employment agency
- It infringes on trademarks
- It is considered offensive or otherwise contrary to public interest
Step 2: Documents submission
Once the proposed name of the employment agency is approved, it is time to submit the necessary documents to the Labor Department for processing the license application.
The nominated operator or director is required to submit the documents in person to the Labor Department and also attend a short interview at the time of documents submission. The documents to be submitted are as follows:
- Employment Agency License Application and the Supplementary Form
- A certified true copy of Hong Kong ID cards or travel documents of each of the directors and the nominated operator of the company. The travel documents must indicate that the persons concerned are allowed to take up employment or establish a business in Hong Kong without any restrictions
- Certified true copies of Business Registration Certificate, Certificate of Incorporation and Articles of Association of the company
- A certified true copy of the Notification of first secretary and directors
- A certified true copy of the Notification of changes of secretary and directors (if applicable)
- A certified true copy of the document confirming the appointment of the nominated operator
A successful application is usually processed within 3-4 few weeks after which the Labor Department issues a demand note to the applicant for payment of the license fee. The Employment Agency License is issued once the license fee of HK$ 2,000, is paid. Most employment agency licenses are issued for a period of 12 months. The license must be conspicuously displayed on the office premises at all times.
Under normal circumstances, if you have submitted all the necessary documents and provided accurate information in your employment agency license application, there is no reason for the authorities to reject your application. If however, for some reason your application is rejected, you can file an appeal with the Labor Department’s Administrative Appeal Board within 28 days of notice of rejection.
Application for renewal of employment agency license must be submitted at least two months before the license expiry date. The applicant must submit the following documents to the Labor Department, along with the license renewal fee of HK$ 2,000:
- A completed prescribed ‘Renewal of License’ application form
- A Declaration Form (declaring that the applicant is not an undischarged bankrupt)
- An Authorization to conduct a criminal record check on the applicant
- A true certified copy of a valid Business Registration Certificate
Simple and straightforward business licensing
Obtaining an employment agency license in Hong Kong is relatively simple and straightforward. Although you can apply for a license on your own, it is advisable to engage a professional services firm to save time and resources.