Disappointed, Hong Kong migrants return from U.K.

May 16, 2024 22:31

Unable to find a satisfactory job and integrate easily into British society, some Hong Kong migrants have returned home – but remain discreet for fear of losing face with their friends and former colleagues.

“Three families I know have returned,” said Leung Keung-yik, a shopkeeper. “From selling their properties here, they had enough money to live in the U.K. But the only jobs they could find were low paid and below their expectations. They found it hard to adapt to life there. And the level of tax is much higher.

“After their return, they are keeping quiet and not contacting friends. It is a question of face,” he said. “Once they were back, they easily found work and similar pay to what they earned before.” There are no official figures on the number of returnees.

More than 180,000 Hong Kong people with BNO passports have moved to Britain since it announced a programme to admit them in January 2021. After five years, they can apply for settlement and, a year later, for a British passport.

The newcomers have lived during difficult times. First there was the Covid pandemic. In 2022, UK GDP growth was 4.3 per cent, but fell to 0,1 per cent in 2023 and 1.7 per cent in the first quarter of this year.

A decade of austerity has led to declining standards in public services, especially the National Health Service, the police and railways as well as strikes in many sectors. They also faced a cost of living crisis -- between September 2022 and March 2023, the UK experienced seven months of double-digit inflation; it peaked at 11.1 per cent in October 2022.

The migrants who have adapted most easily are professionals like doctors, nurses, dentists, accountants, lawyers, teachers and IT and finance specialists. Many have qualifications they obtained in UK or through UK-affiliated bodies, making it easy to access the job market.
Not so lucky are those without UK qualifications and with skills and experience not easily transferable to the UK.

A survey published last November by the Welcoming Committee for Hong Kongers and an independent thinktank British Future found that 52 per cent had jobs, of whom 35 per cent full-time, nine per cent part-time and six per cent self-employed. Of those in employment, 25 per cent said that they were underpaid and 20 per cent said they were overworked.

Almost 60 per cent of BNO Hong Kongers have degrees at graduate or post-graduate level, but 47 per cent of those with jobs said the work did not match their skills and experience.
Heather Rolfe, director of research at British Future, said that, despite their high level of education, many HK migrants were likely to be unemployed or working in jobs below their skill level. They are filling gaps in sectors, including retail and wholesale, information technology, education and hospitality, she said.

David Wong, a secondary school teacher in Hong Kong, said that his friends who had migrated were working in supermarkets, delivery and Amazon warehouses. “They are not happy about these jobs. But it is a start, a chance to improve their English, make friends and understand the society better. From there, they hope to move up to better positions.

“They are doing this for their children and to avoid the ‘patriotic education’ here. They do not want their children to become ‘小粉紅’ (xiao fenhong) – fervent nationalists – and argue with them.

“One migrant who is happier is a lorry driver. He is doing the same job in the UK. It does not require a high level of English. What he needs to learn is the routes and the driving culture. His standard of living has not changed, and he owns a bigger apartment than here,” said Wong.

Other downsides, he said, are the British climate, food and the need for fluent English. “Unlike many migrants, they are not short of money after selling their property or properties here. That was often enough to buy two or more in UK, provided you buy outside the big cities. So they may have rental income,” he said.

More than 25 per cent of those interviewed by the survey said they had difficulty accessing their HK pension fund. The Hong Kong government does not recognise the BNO passport as proof of identity in the city, so holders cannot use it to withdraw their pension earlier.

In spite of all the challenges, 99 per cent of those interviewed in the survey said that they did not plan to return to Hong Kong. Perhaps not all are telling the truth.

A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.