Unrest, security law encourages Hong Kong people to emigrate

October 12, 2020 11:58
Photo: Reuters

“Like many people, I am thinking of emigration,” said Brian Wong, a dentist in his 40s. “I have investigated in which countries I can work in my profession. My job will not be directly affected by the changes, but I feel uncomfortable living in this new atmosphere.

“Several of my friends with families have decided to leave. They do not want their children to be educated with censored books and ‘patriotism’,” he said.

Wong is like thousands of Hong Kong people who have over the last 18 months decided to reconsider their future, especially since July 1 and the implementation of the National Security Law.

A survey of 737 citizens published by the Asia-Pacific Research Centre of the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that 43.9 per cent intended to leave the SAR, with 15.3 per cent actively preparing to do so.

As to destination, Britain ranked first with 23.8 per cent, followed by Australia with 11.6 per cent and Taiwan with 10.7 per cent. Of those interviewed, only 9.4 per cent currently have the right of abode in a foreign country.

Data from the Mandatory Provident Fund shows that, in the first quarter of this year, 7,600 withdrawals were made by people planning to leave HK permanently, up 10 per cent on the same period of 2019. The money they took out, HK$1.295 billion, was an increase of 32 per cent. From June last year to the end of March this year, there were 24,300 applications, amounting to HK$4.128 billion. This is a record high. Only those who have decided definitively to leave make such withdrawals.

Emigration consultants report a sharp increase in inquiries. Newspapers are full of advertisements for emigration seminars and properties in migrant countries, including Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, UK, Ireland, Cyprus, Greece and Portugal. They include countries where Hong Kong people would like to live: and those which give residency in exchange for a substantial investment in property, government bonds or other assets – but do not demand you live there.

Dublin-based Bartra Wealth Advisors said that enquiries from Hong Kong people on immigration to Ireland had been on the increase since the start of 2020. “Some were ready to drop and sell everything in Hong Kong and just go to wherever is cheapest and easiest to apply. Our advice in choosing a destination is economic stability and growth potential: professions in high demand: work and life culture: education and language.”

Leung Li-keung, 53, owner of a small restaurant, said that he did not want to emigrate. “I am too old and happy with my life. I have no interest in politics and am not affected by all that has happened. But my two sons, both computer engineers, are considering emigration.

“We have relatives in three places in the United States who could help them go there. Most people will choose places where they have links – family members, study, close friends or a business connection and a language they understand,” he said.

This means that the most popular choices will be those with established Hong Kong communities, like Vancouver and Toronto in Canada, California and New York in U.S., Sydney and Melbourne in Australia and Auckland in New Zealand.

Since the UK offered entry and future citizenship to holders of British National Overseas (BNO) passports earlier this year, Britain is on the list of many considering migration.

In a research report last month, London property agent Benham and Reeves said that there had been a sharp increase in demand for homes close to top educational institutes in the U.K..

“This has been primarily due to interest from Asia, with the quality of their children’s education top of the list for these buyers. Interest from Hong Kong, in particular, has been high as many look to escape a turbulent landscape to provide their children with a more stable environment in which to learn,” managing director Anita Mehra said.

Getting an additional passport and a property overseas are certainly positive. But there are good reasons not to leave now. The COVID-19 pandemic means that the economies of most desirable countries will post negative growth this year. When governments reduce or end subsidies that are keeping people in work, unemployment will soar; social unrest may result, over lack of jobs, falling incomes and government mismanagement of the virus. Without a credible vaccine, the end of the pandemic is not in sight in these countries, except possibly New Zealand.

In this year of tragedies, there are no easy choices.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.