18 February 2019
Hong Kong's economic competitiveness will decline if it closes the door on new immigrants. Photo: Bloomberg
Hong Kong's economic competitiveness will decline if it closes the door on new immigrants. Photo: Bloomberg

Hostility to mainland immigrants: Why it will hurt HK

The Hong Kong government suspended its Capital Investment Entrant Scheme last month. The policy shift suggests that the city is now looking for talent, rather than capital investment, to boost the local workforce.

With an increasingly aging population, Hong Kong will witness a decline in the labor pool as soon as 2018. With less people working, economic growth might slow down, posing a serious hindrance to our social development. In order to reverse this trend and maintain the viability of our economy, the administration must come up with a new population policy that can fully utilize our valuable human resources by unleashing our potential workforce and attracting foreign talent.

Hong Kong has always been a city of immigrants, and diversity has generated a lot of momentum for our growth. People from all around the world, together with locals, all worked together and built this cosmopolitan city. Unfortunately, the city has become less and less accommodative in recent years and xenophobic sentiment has continued to grow among the local public.

Some Hong Kong people not only reject the import of foreign labor but are also hostile to new immigrants, labeling them as “locusts” and accusing them of “overstaying our welcome” and competing for social welfare resources with us.

Yet, it seems these people didn’t see the other side of the coin. A lot of mainland immigrants actually have professional qualifications or rich work experience. However, many of these people have discovered that their qualifications are not recognized or needed in the local job market, and several are simply fed up with the kind of discrimination they have come across in their daily lives. As a result, they find it difficult to get involved in the local job market and fulfill their own potential through the skills they possess.

A friend of mine who specializes in helping new immigrants from the mainland told me that he received a lot of requests for help every year, as many new immigrants were frustrated with the densely-packed living environment, their qualifications not being recognized, and particularly the dirty looks given by local Hongkongers.

Many of them were so disenchanted they would have gone back to the mainland if it wasn’t for the fact that their original citizenship had been cancelled by mainland authorities.

The Security Bureau has recently stated that it is studying with the mainland the feasibility of setting up a mechanism under which new immigrants can choose to give up their Hong Kong ID cards and move back to their place of origin where they can get back their citizenship. But is it good for Hong Kong?

If we are willing to face the cruel reality, then we will have enough reasons to feel worried about our city, which is often dubbed the “Treasure Land”. According to numerous international surveys, Hong Kong’s ranking in terms of competitiveness and “livability” continues to drop on a yearly basis.

The University of Hong Kong, once No.1 in Asia, has been overtaken by rivals in Tokyo and Singapore, and its ranking plunged from 21 in 2010 to 43 in 2014. Even though Hong Kong has been ranked the freest economy in the world for 21 consecutive years, we have only a 0.2 point lead over Singapore this year.

Years of self-attrition and political controversies have taken their toll on our social and economic development, and we are doing further damage to ourselves by turning away valuable foreign talent. Even if there is really treasure in Hong Kong, we need to have people to dig them up.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 30.

Translation by Alan Lee

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal

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