How to License & Register a Recruitment Agency in Hong Kong

Finding a job is a two-way street. While there is a lot of talent in the market, matching the candidate to the job profile is no easy feat.

That’s where a recruitment agency steps in and performs the crucial role of finding the ideal candidate from the talent pool to meet the client’s requirements. 

According to the Employment Ordinance, which governs various employment conditions in Hong Kong, a recruitment agency refers to “an establishment or person who aims to obtain employment for another person, or supply personnel to an employer.”

In other words, a recruitment agency acts as the intermediary to source suitable candidates.

 Recruitment agencies are an integral part of Hong Kong’s economy.

As of May 2020,  there are 3,148 licensed employment agencies that are registered with the Labour Department in Hong Kong.

If you are keen on setting up one, here’s a handy guide addressing all your queries:

When do you need a license for your recruitment agency?

Unless your business pertains to any of the exempted categories, you need a license for operating a recruitment agency in Hong Kong.

Exempted categories need to apply to the Labour Department to obtain a Certificate of Exemption.

The following recruitment agencies are exempted:

  • operational under the Merchant Shipping (Seafarers) Ordinance
  • operating on behalf of the government of Hong Kong
  • operated by employers to hire employees for their organization alone
  • operated by educational institutions for assisting their graduates/students in finding employment
  • operated by a contractor or sub-contractor for hiring manual labor for carrying out building works
  • operated by the owners of a publishing house for non-profit purpose

Starting a recruitment agency without obtaining a license from the authorities is a punishable offense.

It can attract a penalty of HKD 350,000 and imprisonment for three years.

Are there any special conditions to be fulfilled before I apply for the license?

Prior to sending any license application for processing, you need to incorporate and register a Hong Kong Company.

A person should be appointed as the nominee of the company, designated as the nominated operator.

Such a person is responsible for the routine operations and management of the agency.

In case the recruitment agency assists overseas domestic workers to find opportunities in Hong Kong, they must comply with the relevant regulations for the same.

Who can be appointed as a nominated operator?

Such a person should either be a citizen of Hong Kong or a Permanent Resident or hold an employment visa.

The person can be the director or an officer of the recruitment company.

Additionally, the nominee should not have been declared bankrupt or charged with any offense in the last five years when the license application is made. 

What is the procedure to apply for the license to register the recruitment agency?

The first step involves submitting a name for the recruitment agency for approval by the Labour Department.

In case the name infringes on a trademark, or sounds similar or identical to the name of an existing recruitment agency, or is offensive to the public interest, the department can reject the application. 

Once the Labour Department approves the name, the following documents must be submitted:

  • Duly filled application form for obtaining the license for the recruitment agency along with the supplementary form;
  • Certified true copies of the company documents such as the Business Registration Certificate, Certificate of Incorporation, and Articles of Association; 
  • Certified true copies of the Notification of the first secretary and directors of the company and subsequent changes (if any);
  • A certified true copy of the document that confirms the appointment of the  nominated operator; and
  • A certified true copy of ID cards issued by the Hong Kong government or travel documents of every director and the nominated operator. The purpose of the travel documents is to place on record that the relevant persons are free to travel and take up new employment or establish a new business within Hong Kong.

The director or the nominated operator must submit these documents.

Typically, there’s a short in-person interview after the documents are submitted. 

How long does it take for approval?

Usually, you can expect to hear from the Labour Department within 3-4 weeks from submitting all the documents.

To receive the license, you also need to pay a license fee which is currently HKD 2000.

What is the validity of the license? 

The validity of the Employment Agency License in Hong Kong is 12 months.

That’s why you need to start the recruitment agency within that period.

Are there any other conditions related to the license?

It must be displayed prominently on the office premises at all times.

Failure to do that is an offense and attracts a maximum penalty of HKD 10,000. 

How can I renew the license?

To renew the license for your recruitment agency, submit the renewal application at least two months prior to the expiry date of the license.

The renewal fee of HKD 2000 and the following documents must be submitted to the Labour Department:

  • Duly filled copy of the ‘Renewal of License’ application form;
  • A declaration (in the prescribed format) from the applicant that they have not been declared as an undischarged bankrupt; 
  • A true certified copy of the Business Registration Certificate for the recruitment agency; and
  • Authorization from the applicant that the authorities can conduct a check on their criminal record

What can I do if my application for obtaining a license for my recruitment agency is rejected?

The best way is to file an appeal with the Administrative Appeal Board of the Labour Department.

However, you must file the appeal within 28 days of receiving the rejection.

 Are there any best practices that need to be followed by recruitment agencies?

The Commissioner for Labour has issued the Code of Practice for Employment Agencies for promoting professionalism and better service in the industry.

Recruitment agencies should comply with the terms of the same.

Irregularities or non-compliance can result in the issuance of warning letters from the Commissioner of Labour. 

Ready to set up a recruitment agency in Hong Kong?

If you are keen to set up a recruitment agency of your own but feeling overwhelmed by the procedure, there’s no reason to worry!

Register your recruitment agency with Air Corporate today, and you’ll get

Focus on your business. We take care of the rest.

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