Cathay Pacific’s International Pilots Denied Visas For Hong Kong

  • Airlines

Almost 500 non-local Cathay Pacific pilots have had their work permit applications knocked back by Hong Kong’s Immigration Department. Cathy Pacific has confirmed 496 pilots whose jobs were dependant on securing work permits have failed to get the necessary tick of approval from Hong Kong authorities.

Hong Kong authorities have rejected applications for work permits by nearly 500 Cathay Pacific pilots. Photo: Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific pilot jobs contingent on relocating to Hong Kong

According to a report by Danny Lee in The South China Morning Post on the weekend,  Cathay Pacific pilots based in places like Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Australia have attempted to relocate to Hong Kong to hold onto their jobs at the airline.

Cathay Pacific has shut several offshore pilot bases this year as it attempts to cut costs as anemic levels of flying slowly strangle the airline. As bases closed, Cathay Pacific told pilots they needed to move to Hong Kong to keep their jobs.

But Hong Kong’s Immigration Department declined every application for work permits from these pilots, many of whom have worked for Cathay Pacific for years.

“We have been informed by the Immigration Department that the work permit applications from overseas-based pilots who have applied to relocate to Hong Kong have been rejected,” Cathay Pacific confirmed.

“We are reaching out to support these officers, many of whom will have the opportunity to elect an enhanced termination benefit.”

UK & US Cathay Pacific pilot jobs also at risk

Of the 496 work permit applied for, 423 of those pilots had previously been issued work permits allowing residency in Hong Kong at some point in time. Three hundred and twelve pilots currently living and working in Hong Kong on work permits had those permits extended, but 111 Cathay Pacific pilots did not.

The number of rejected work permit applications is likely to increase. This month, Cathay Pacific confirmed it would close its London pilot base, putting the jobs of the 100 odd pilots based there at risk. Pilot bases in the United States also face an uncertain future with a decision on their future to be made later this year, risking a further 140 US-based pilot jobs.

“Sadly, this represents yet another blow to those who have staked their career on Cathay Pacific Airways,” said Alex Jackson, chairman of the Hong Kong Aircrew Officers Association.

“This decision was one made by the Hong Kong government, the options for a better resolution were limited and outside our control, especially in the current climate.”

High levels of unemployment among existing Hong Kong-based pilots

It seems high local pilot unemployment levels are behind the decision not to issue work permits.  In 2020, Cathay Pacific axed 5,900 jobs, including pilot roles. The airline has trimmed an additional 2,500 jobs this year as it flies at less than 15% of its 2019 levels. There are around 3,000 surviving pilots based in Hong Kong. They’ve agreed to long-term pay cuts to hold onto their jobs.

But the offshore-based pilots are not so lucky. However, with so many pilots living in Hong Kong out of work, some argue Hong Kong needs to look after its own people first. The South China Morning Post says 300 pilots living in Hong Kong are out of work, including many former Cathay Dragon pilots.

“It is good to see that immigration is recognizing this, and denying new work visas as per their own policy, and we still hope that they extend this to visa renewals to expedite the re-employment of local pilots,” the newspaper quotes an unnamed spokesperson for the unemployed pilots saying.

It is a grim situation all round for all Cathay Pacific employees. But Cathay’s pilots based outside Hong Kong who’ve given years, even decades to the airline, might rightly feel short-changed right now.