Hong Kong denies work visas to dozens of Cathay Pacific pilots seeking to settle in the city
A Cathay Pacific jet is seen in front of the air traffic control tower at Hong Kong International Airport on October 24, 2020 (Reuters Photo)
HONG KONG: Immigration officials in Hong Kong have denied work visas to dozens of Cathay Pacific pilots overseas seeking to settle in the city, prompting the airline to end the their jobs.
Several dozen Cathay pilots had attempted to leave Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Germany after the carrier closed its overseas bases, endangering around 280 skilled jobs, the South China Morning Post has learned.
Employees were only able to keep their jobs if they obtained a valid work visa for Hong Kong.
However, since the carrier cut its regional airline Cathay Dragon in October last year, creating a large number of unemployed cabin crews, no new work visas for a foreign pilot have been approved.
Cathay Pacific confirmed on Saturday that the Immigration Department had rejected all visa applications from its pilots overseas, without specifying the number.
“We have been informed by the Immigration Department that the work permit applications of overseas-based pilots who have applied to move to Hong Kong have been rejected,” an airline spokeswoman said. “We are reaching out in support of these leaders, many of whom will have the option of choosing enhanced severance pay.”
Immigration data for the first eight months of the year showed 496 visa applications from non-local pilots, of which 73 were seeking a first work permit. All the candidates were then rejected. Another 423 had requested an extension of an existing visa, of which 312 were approved.
The nearly 100 Britain-based Cathay pilots who learned their overseas base would close earlier this month risked facing the same rejection if they sought to transfer to Hong Kong without already having the right to work in the city.
Alex Jackson, president of the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association, which represents union pilots, expressed his “great disappointment” at the situation in a memo to members.
“This decision was taken by the Hong Kong government, the options for a better resolution were limited and beyond our control, especially in the current climate,” Jackson said.
“Sadly, this represents yet another blow to those who have staked their careers on Cathay Pacific Airways.”
However, a concern group for former Cathay Dragon pilots hailed the government’s approach.
“Four months have passed since Cathay promised to rehire local pilots, while a small number have effectively returned to work, the vast majority still unemployed,” the group said in a statement.
Of the 300 unemployed pilots with local residences, he said, only 60 have been rehired by local airlines.
“It is good to see that immigration recognizes this and denies new work visas in accordance with its own policy, and we still hope that it will extend this to visa renewals to speed up the re-employment of local pilots,” said a spokesperson for the group. noted.
Since the start of the year, Cathay has closed its overseas pilot bases in an effort to cut costs, focusing instead on its Hong Kong base. Some 3,000 Hong Kong-based pilots recently agreed to permanent pay cuts to preserve their jobs at the coronavirus-battered carrier.
The airline’s remaining overseas pilot bases, spread across the United States and employing 140 people, will be reviewed later this year.
In the first half of 2021, Cathay imposed a series of permanent and temporary workforce reductions. The group’s workforce has fallen further by 2,500 to 23,100 since the end of last year, in addition to the record 5,900 jobs cut in October 2020 when Cathay Dragon closed.
Cathay, meanwhile, remains stuck near the bottom, operating out of a city with some of the world’s strictest pandemic-related travel and quarantine rules, even as other global airlines experience a revival. while some countries are starting to reopen.
As Cathay continues to drop pilots, carriers elsewhere face challenges in training and retraining enough cockpit crew to meet demand.
The airline said on Monday that strict rules in Hong Kong continued to hamper its recovery, leading it to reduce its projection of the number of flights it could operate in the third quarter of this year.
While he initially hoped to steal 30% of his pre-pandemic program, that figure has been revised down to around 13%.