28 October 2016
Relations between native-born Hongkongers and Chinese immigrants have not improved much. Some Hong Kong people call mainlanders locusts. Photo: Weibo
Relations between native-born Hongkongers and Chinese immigrants have not improved much. Some Hong Kong people call mainlanders locusts. Photo: Weibo

Why new immigrants from China continue to feel unwelcome

In the past 10 years, about 900,000 mainland immigrants have settled in Hong Kong. That’s 12 percent of the population.  

Most of these immigrants are either wives or children of Hong Kong citizens.

Given that the birth rate in Hong Kong is falling, these new immigrants compensate for the stagnant population growth.

But whether they can integrate into our society economically, socially and culturally is a matter of considerable concern for the government.

Until recently, there has been very little research on how well new immigrants are assimilated into our society.

The Department of Asian and Policy Studies of the Hong Kong Institute of Education has recently completed a study on the problems new immigrants face in trying to adapt to a new environment.

Between 2011 and 2014, the study covered 1,038 new immigrants from the mainland, most of whom had already lived in Hong Kong for four years, to look into any situations of discrimination.

My own investigations found that the more discrimination new immigrants experience on a daily basis, the more likely they will show depression symptoms, causing severe damage to their mental health in the long run.

I also noticed that discrimination is relatively common in daily social activities. Many new immigrants say it is difficult to make friends with native-born Hongkongers.

It seems discrimination is not only harming the mental health of new immigrants but also obstructing their integration into society.

It’s important to understand the seriousness of the problem.

The 2011 survey I mentioned earlier showed that 25.4 percent of new immigrants felt discriminated against simply because of who they are.

The result is similar to that of a 2014 study (26.5 percent), suggesting that even after having lived in Hong Kong for years, immigrants have seen no significant improvement.

Also, the 2011 study showed 20.2 percent of the new immigrants felt they were often treated unfairly because of their identity.

The percentage was 22 percent in the same study in 2014, suggesting that things didn’t improve much.

To make matters worse, some new immigrants found that acceptance of new immigrants by native-born Hong Kong people has deteriorated.

In 2011, 54.2 percent of new immigrants believed they were not accepted by native-born Hongkongers.

In 2014, the percentage rose to 60.8 percent.

About, 58.7 percent of new immigrants in the 2011 survey thought Hongkongers were biased and misunderstood them, rising to 66.7 percent in 2014.

It is often believed that the underlying cause of discrimination against new immigrants among Hong Kong people is misunderstanding.

Such misunderstanding can be corrected through more frequent interaction between new immigrants and the local population.

However, it is worrying that for years, many new immigrants didn’t see any improvement in their situation and relations with native-born Hongkongers.

Although we are not sure if the deteriorating discrimination problem has anything to do with conflict between Hongkongers and mainlanders in recent months, it is a subject worth studying in-depth.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 6.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Some new immigrants complain that they are not getting equal treatment from the government. Photo: HKEJ

Professor and Head, Department of Asian and Policy Studies, The Hong Kong Institute of Education

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