While the government is considering importing talent from abroad, an increasing number of young professionals are choosing to leave Hong Kong, and Singapore is one of their migration targets.
Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly talked to some of them to learn about their motives and first-hand experiences with Singapore. What it found is quite different from the usual impressions Hongkongers have of the Lion City.
Cheung Chun-wah graduated from the department of systems engineering and engineering management at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
He worked as an analyst in Singapore for about a year.
Although he is not happy about many things there, Cheung, 26, is still trying to get permanent residency in Singapore, a place he calls an “emergency exit”.
Cheung has a long list of complaints about the city state.
“I didn’t expect the cost of living in Singapore to be that high,” he said.
“The weather in Singapore is hot all year round. You may have a larger living space than in Hong Kong, but the electricity tariff is much higher. You couldn’t imagine how much one needs to pay to keep the air-con running all the time in a 1,000 square foot apartment.”
Not just electricity is costly, Cheung said. It is expensive to dine out, it’s expensive to drive, to drink and to smoke.
“I lived in Britain for a year, but I think the cost of living in Singapore is even higher than in London,” he said.
Salary levels are in some cases even lower than in Hong Kong.
“Take the banking industry as an example,” Cheung said. “The pay of vice-presidents is 20-30 percent less in Singapore.”
Singapore has little by way of entertainment, he complained.
Television programs are comparable with production by China Central Television, Cheung said.
The government is authoritarian, and the press practices self-censorship, he said. People can protest only in a small zone in Hong Lim Park, where foreigners are not welcome.
Cheung said he had to go to Malaysia to watch the uncut version of Ip Man, a martial arts movie produced in Hong Kong.
So why plan to stay in Singapore nonetheless?
Cheung is pessimistic about Hong Kong’s future and his career prospects in his hometown.
In the financial industry, “the future belongs to either Singapore or Shanghai”, he said.
The Lion City is the main wealth management center in Southeast Asia, managing funds primarily from Malaysia and Indonesia.
Hong Kong is still the financial center for North Asia, but if the Chinese government allows the renminbi to float freely and relax rules on foreign currency trading, “Hong Kong will totally lose its edge”, Cheung said.
The Singapore government has offered tax benefits to attract multinational firms to set up their Asian headquarters in the city. Their offices in Hong Kong will then be reduced to local units offering limited opportunities, he said.
But Cheung is pessimistic about his application for permanent residency in Singapore, as the city will hold general elections soon.
The government will hold back on the granting of permanent resident visas during the run-up to the elections, he said, as anti-foreigner sentiment has been growing in the past few years.
Keung Cheng-dong is a professor who has worked in Singapore for 10 years.
To him, the answer to whether Singapore is a better alternative will depend on the individual’s priorities.
“Hong Kong has no democracy, but Singapore offers very little freedom,” he said.
“Each country has its own problems.”
Many Hongkongers working in Singapore regard the city state as just another job market in which to try their luck, especially when relevant vacancies in Hong Kong are sparse, Keung said.
Keung submitted job applications to employers in Hong Kong and Singapore.
He chose Singapore simply because he got the offer from there first.
“The labor market is now very international,” he said.
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