[Cover Story]Paid party-goers

Reporters: Alice Wan, Aske Cheong and Yupina Ng

A nightclub "facilitator" unveils how the nightlife industry pays foreign exchange students for bringing in customers of the like.

Mr A invites friends to nightclub parties four times a week. He is known for his gregariousness, but not all knows he makes money out of the invitations.

Hired by nightclubs as what they call a "facilitator", Mr A, who declined to be named, says he receives kickbacks for bringing foreign exchange students to his employers' places.

The 24-year-old got the job six months ago through his contacts in Lan Kwai Fong, the city's haunt for clubbing. As a foreign exchange student himself, he is not allowed to take up jobs during his study here under Hong Kong law -- Mr A is aware of this.

But he told The Young Reporter nightclubs and nightclub event-planning companies now saw international students a big market and many of them were working closely with foreign exchange students to boost party turnout.

Under the Immigration Ordinance, Mr A's part-time job could throw him into jail.

Exchange students who study in Hong Kong for less than one year could face up to two years in prison and a maximum fine of $50,000 if they take any employment, whether paid or unpaid, according to the Ordinance.

The penalty for offending employers is even heavier, with a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to three years of imprisonment.

Mr A said the irreplaceably great access to foreign students, who tended to be bigger fans of clubbing compared with locals, was what made exchange students like him ideal facilitators.

Mr Yau Tsz-chun, a hall tutor at Hong Kong Baptist University, echoed Mr A and said his international floor-mates drank about three nights per week on average while most local students went clubbing only occasionally.

Mr A said his job did no harm and had created a "win-win situation."

"If you are a facilitator, both you and your friends benefit," he said. "I don't have to pay for parties but get paid, and my friends will have a good time partying."

Mr A said he had to make sure customers stayed for a few hours and spent at least $5,000 in total to secure his commission.

While declining to reveal the amount of money he makes out of each customer he brings in, he mentioned a facilitator he knew who made $10,000 one night.

Mr Dustin Ciarla, director of nightclub event planner Destroyed Hong Kong, said his company had been targeting foreign students, since locals were "hard nuts to crack" in terms of night-outing.

"Locals are more conservative," he said.

Mr Matty Poon, a bartender at a bar in Kowloon Tong, also said 70 per cent of his sales came from foreign students.

Some exchange students say they are unaware some of them are working as facilitators.

Joyce Ong, a Singaporean exchange student at Baptist University, said she had heard of this kind of job but did not know whether some of her fellow students were facilitators. She said she would be upset if she found out a friend invited her to parties just for money.

"In that case, I'd refuse to go," she said.

"It's hard to tell whether a friend is a facilitator -- it's weird if you just ask. But I feel these people are taking advantage of their friends. They are basically shills," Ms Ong told TYR.

Ms Elly Au Yeung, information officer for the Hong Kong Immigration Department, said in an email to The Young Reporter that non-local students whose study period was longer than one year were allowed to work as interns on the condition that the internship was curriculum-related and endorsed by the host institution.

Other regions in Asia, however, have fewer restrictions on the employment of foreign students.

Japan only requires international students to get an official permission from regional immigration bureaus before getting employed. In Japan, eight out of ten foreign students worked part-time in 2009, figures from the Japan Student Services Organisation showed.

Knowing the legal consequences, Mr A has no hesitation continuing with his part-time job.

"There are no set rules in LKF," he said. "It's LKF, you know."

Edited by Vanessa Piao and Celine Ge

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