19 June 2019
Young Hongkongers are attracted by countries such as South Korea that welcome foreign capital and immigrants. Photo: Bloomberg
Young Hongkongers are attracted by countries such as South Korea that welcome foreign capital and immigrants. Photo: Bloomberg

The 3rd emigration wave: why this time is different

When asked “Do you want to leave Hong Kong and start a new life in a foreign country”, more and more young Hongkongers are saying yes.

What’s wrong with this city?

In a survey done by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups earlier this year, 62 percent (more than three in five) of the young people interviewed said they hope to emigrate. The proportion has not been as high since the handover in 1997.

The desire to emigrate increases with education level, the study found.

Last year, 21,709 Hong Kong residents applied for a certificate of no criminal conviction, three times the number the year before.

The certificate states whether the applicant has a criminal record and is required when applying for an immigrant visa for some countries.

The third wave of emigration is right around the corner, and it is different from the previous two, a report in the Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly said.

The first wave started in 1984, when the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed.

The second wave lasted for eight years, beginning right after the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown and ending when Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997.

Cheung Ka-hei, director of Goldmax Immigration Consulting Ltd., said there are two major characteristics that make the third wave of emigration different from the others.

Previously, emigration meant the moving of the whole family to a foreign country. But now, young people who have not started a family are seeking a new life in another country on their own.

“People wanted their whole families to settle down in a foreign country back in 1997, but what emigrants want now are new experiences instead,” To Siu-ming, an assistant professor in the department of social work at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said.

Are these young people just running away from their responsibilities?

“Hong Kong’s young people are entering the age of post-materialism. Critics often say the youngsters do not try hard enough, but they are wrong,” said To.

“We all know that they have to pick fruit or even work as masseurs during their working holidays. These are not easy jobs, but they are still willing to do them.”

“They are exploring their lives through new experiences.”

The second characteristic of this emigration wave is the change in the preferred destinations.

Western countries, such as the United States and Canada, used to be the most popular choices, but the new generation is more inclined to pick other Asian countries.

Cheung said the main reason is that western countries have raised their barriers to immigration in response to the huge influx of immigrants from mainland China.

Young Hongkongers are attracted by countries such as South Korea that welcome foreign capital and immigrants.

Perhaps it is not that the moon in foreign countries is particularly round and bright but that the younger generation has lost faith in Hong Kong, where rents are forbiddingly high and environmental pollution and political tensions are getting worse.

How will this emigration wave affect Hong Kong?

The city is beginning to lose more professionals at a time when the whole world is competing for talent.

To said that Hong Kong relies too heavily on a handful of industries.

If the government does not try to change the situation, it is quite certain, he said, that more young people will look for opportunities elsewhere, hindering the development of the society as a whole.

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EJ Insight writer

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