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A starting monthly salary of HK$13,000 with free accommodation and language classes would seem quite attractive to many youngsters in Hong Kong. The restaurant chain is willing to provide such terms because they want to attract native Koreans to work for them.

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Simon Park Yong-gwang

Andrew Kang Gwan-mo, 31, is the strategic planning manager of the restaurant chain company that employs Park and Hyeri. He says it is difficult to cook authentic Korean cuisine and the chefs need to be familiar with the taste of real Korean food. Also, having Korean staff can help promote the image of a Korean restaurant.n

The number of Koreans coming to Hong Kong for working holidays has increased rapidly. The Hong Kong/Korea Working Holiday Scheme has been in place since 2011 with an annual quota of 500. In 2012, only 127 Koreans applied for the visa but last year, the quota was filled. The Hong Kong and Korean governments doubled the quota reciprocally this year.

Andrew Kang thinks young Koreans are not coming to Hong Kong because the city itself attracts them. He says that while Koreans of his generation admired and were influenced by Hong Kong movie stars like Chow Yun-fat Fat and Andy Lau and thought Hong Kong must be fancy, rich and super-cool, today’s Korean youngsters see it differently.

Kang says the young generation of Koreans does not know where Hong Kong is and what its people are like because the cultural influence of Hong Kong is decreasing. “After Infernal Affairs, no one [in Korea] watch Hong Kong movies.”

He adds that the reason Koreans come to Hong Kong is to get to China. It is easy for them to go to mainland cities like Shenzhen any time. Also Hong Kong is just a three-hour flight away from Korea.

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Andrew Kang Gwan-mo

The employment opportunities in Hong Kong are also a major attraction. Some find it hard to find a job in Korea, with the youth unemployment rate at 9.4 per cent this year. Steve Chung Lok-wai, assistant professor in the Faculty of Social Science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and an expert in South Korean studies, says leaving the country to explore the outside world is a better prospect for young Koreans.

Chung explains that working abroad can increase a young person’s competitiveness and make it easier to find a job when they go back to Korea. Also, Hong Kong is a good place for Korean students to learn languages. He says that in Korea, the learning approach to English sticks to Korean phonics, which gives them less confidence in speaking, so they might want to enhance their speaking skills in Hong Kong.

Another language they can learn in Hong Kong is Chinese.

Knowing how to speak Chinese is “essential for this generation,” Chung says, as many Koreans want to work in China.

Besides Koreans, the number of working visa applications from French citizens is also increasing. According to the Consul General of France in Hong Kong and Macau, there were only 99 applications for working holiday visas in Hong Kong in 2013; the quota was increased to 200 in the following year and was filled. In 2015, the quota went up to 400 and this year, it increased to 500.