One sentence TLDR: It took me more than a year to get approved for the QMAS visa; there are probably better options for you if you're looking to come to HK.
My background enabled me to score high in the QMAS General Points Test, so I went through this route rather than through the APT route (Achievement-based Points Test), which looks like it's more for celebrities.
I applied for the QMAS visa in late 2019. I received an EMAIL confirmation from the Immigration Department, which is nice. Over the next several months, ImmD would email me, asking for additional documentation, on top of the extensive documentation I already provided. Lesson #1: Be extremely thorough with your documentation; better to have too much info than too little. In fact, ImmD would ask for documentation, then after my submission, ask for more documentation related to another topic, instead of asking for all of it at once. So it was very serial instead of parallel, which slowed things down, even before COVID changed things.
Starting in early 2020, I heard nothing back from ImmD. Then in early 2021, I got a physical LETTER from ImmD, informing me that I was conditionally approved ("approved in principle"). Lesson #2: Be aware that your address on the application should be semi-permanent; if the applications take a year to process, you may have moved since then. Interestingly, it was not an email confirmation, unlike the past communications with ImmD.
As soon as I heard back, I began the process for the US FBI background check, which took time. Once I got the background check in the mail, I called ImmD to schedule an appointment, and they informed me that the next appointment was a month away. Lesson #3: You can do your background check in parallel; for example, you can get your fingerprinting done early (free at Wan Chai police HQ) rather than waiting for approval. IMO, you should also get your background check done once beforehand, because there are some cases where you might have incidents on your background check that are there by mistake, and take time to correct. Also, it can help you familiarize yourself with your government's process. Then when you get approved, you can get a new background check, as they require a relatively "fresh" check.
Also Lesson #4: once you get approved, you can schedule your appointment right away rather than waiting for your background check to come in, assuming there is still a one-month wait for interviews.
The interview was quick and painless. Unlike the tourist visa extension floor, every employee in the QMAS department was super professional, friendly, and quick. The officer I did my interview with was proficient at English, and I had no trouble talking to him. I did a glance around at other interviewees and saw a few non-Chinese people, including one family.
Is it worth it to get the QMAS visa? One can glean information online to better assess that.
In 2018, ImmD approved 504/2132 applicants from mainland China (23.64%), and approved only 51/1182 applicants from outside the mainland (4.31%). Either mainland applicants are stronger, or the QMAS program favors them, or some combination of factors. But if you're not from the mainland, your chances may be pretty slim.
I also was able to gather information through another route; every few months, ImmD will publish their approval-in-principle results online here: https://www.immd.gov.hk/eng/services...n/results.html . It will give you the IDs of selected applicants, and doing so reveals around which applications they are currently looking at. The "-19" at the end of the ID signifies that the person applied in 2019. You can tell that some people are fast tracked; ImmD is currently looking at 2019 and 2020 applicants, but one person from 2021 (-21) was already granted an approval-in-principle- the person must be pretty spectacular!
For each PDF, I would copy the IDs into a spreadsheet and examine the data. Note that the ImmD *replaces* the PDF each time, so you cannot get past data; you must be diligent to save each PDF as they are released if you want to create a record. Since you receive a physical letter rather than an email when you get conditionally approved, it can also be quicker to determine if you got an approval by looking at the PDF and searching for your ID rather than waiting around for the letter. From what I can tell, there are no easy ways to get notified when the PDF is updated, so I would just check on the site regularly. I probably could have built a script to detect changes, but what's the fun in that?
In late 2020, ImmD announced that they would double the max number of QMAS approvals from 1k to 2k people per year. I don't know if this will double your chances of getting in; potentially, it could mean just more approvals for those from the mainland. It could also increase the number of applicants (people may think they have better chances), negating the better approval odds. It could also mean that they will look at past applications, which were on the border, and give them a second look. In any case, I'm just speculating here, and only ImmD knows.
Overall, time wise, it was a fairly long process. The documentation requirements, depending on your background, can be quite extensive. Cost wise, it was cheap- it just required me printing out a few hundred pages. If you are thinking about moving to HK in the future, then I personally would suggest:
- Applying for QMAS as early as possible (if you believe you meet the requirements), and
- NOT counting on it. Other visas, like the normal employment visa, investment visa, etc would take much less time to process and have a higher rate of approval.
Shoutout to @vmlinuz as well. Maybe let's grab a beer sometime as well, looks like you're a technical guy (same as me).