Hong Kong people battle to adapt to Britain

February 18, 2021 06:00
Photo: Reuters

In Hong Kong, the two Leungs earned a monthly income of more than HK$100,000 in managerial positions. Now they earn a tenth of that in their new life in Warrington, in the north of England, where they emigrated in April last year.

In Hong Kong, Kathy, 40, was a sales manager for a hotel restaurant. After earning a qualification as a nail carer, she is working in her new profession. Her husband, 46, managed engineering projects in Hong Kong. Now he is training to be an electrician.

“Our material life is not as good as we wished,” she said. “But there is no choice. We must make this sacrifice for our three children (3, 5 and 12). If we had no children, we certainly would not emigrate.”

The Leungs are among thousands of Hong Kong people who have emigrated to Britain since the start of the protests against the extradition bill in 2019.

Last October, the British Home Office estimated that about 153,000 BNO passport holders, including dependents, would emigrate in 2021 and between 258,000 and 322,000 over the 2021-2025 period. Britain is in the midst of the Covid 19 epidemic, which pushed GDP to a negative 9.9% per cent last year, the worst figure for 300 years. Millions are out of work.

The Leungs brought HK$1 million to the U.K. for the first two years and have kept their property in Hong Kong. “We have not brought all our savings and have no immediate plan to buy a property here. If after two years we cannot adapt and things are going badly, we will not force ourselves to stay here,” said Kathy Leung.

Between Liverpool and Manchester, Warrington is one of the cheapest cities in England to live in. A house for a family of four costs around HK$2 million and costs for a modest lifestyle roughly HK$15,000 a month.

Also living in Warrington is Wayan, a sourcing agent for a property firm, who moved there in February 2020. “My first choice was London but property and living costs were too high. Then I looked at Altringham, a district southwest of Manchester with many Chinese residents. But that was too expensive also, so I chose Warrington. Initially, I planned to stay two months in a hotel but it had no washing machine and I could not make food in the room. Choice of restaurants nearby was limited, so I moved into a house,” he said.

Wang Jie moved to Britain in the second half of last year. After staying for several months, he brought his wife and daughter and rented a house in Reading, west of London. He has spent HK$20,000 on a motor cycle which he is using as a delivery man for Pizza Hut. They have found a nearby school for their daughter.

“My daughter likes the open space and the parks. The winter is less cold than we thought, about eight degrees. Children can adapt quickly to a new environment but it is more difficult for my wife. She will need time, especially to improve her English,” he said.

Last August Ah Jun moved to Britain with his wife and two sons. “After the anti-extradition bill protests, many unreasonable things happened. I lost all faith in the government and, thanks to the BNO scheme, found a way to leave,” he said.

He is earning 20 pounds an hour as a steel welder on a construction site in London. After graduating in business management in Hong Kong, he worked for six years in insurance but could not earn enough to support his family. So he learnt to become a welder.

“Before I came, I did research and discovered a strong demand for welders in Britain. After tax, I earn HK$8,400 a week, which is enough to support my family. I did not imagine this during the Covid pandemic,” he said. “Many Hong Kong people are considering emigration but do not know what jobs they can do here. Most British people do not want to do blue-collar jobs. Most workers on the building sites are Romanians and Africans. There is less competition.”

David Wong has lived in Britain since 1987 after his father, a civil servant here, sent him to school there. After graduating from university, he settled and raised a family. “Many Hong Kong people are anxious but do not prepare enough for the culture and way of living here,” he said. “They must adapt to the society here, which has different races and cultures. The regulations are different -- when you buy an air conditioner, you need a permit from the local government, so that its noise does not disturb your neighbour. You cannot think everything is done as in Hong Kong.”

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.