HK migrants find mixed fortunes in Britain

January 13, 2022 06:00
Photo: AP/Reuters

Michael Leung and his family were fast asleep in the house they had recently bought in the Midlands of England. He heard glass crashing on the ground floor and went to investigate. When he reached the stairs, he saw three masked men with iron bars standing in the hall.

“I was terrified. Would they attack my family? What they wanted was my car, an Audi. I went to the kitchen, gave them the car key and they left. We got off lightly.”

Leung described his ordeal in a video on Youtube, one of dozens posted by Hong Kong people who have emigrated to Britain. “The police came and took details. They said 90 per cent of such cases are unsolved. Since the men were masked, how can they identify them?”

Since he had installed cameras outside the house, the video showed the three men smashing the glass window next to the back door.

It is nearly 12 months since the British government opened the door to Hong Kong holders of BNO passports and their families. As of November, Britain had approved more than 76, 000 applicants. Many have posted videos on Youtube, describing their experiences, positive and negative. They give a vivid picture of life in the new country.

A survey published in October by Hongkongers in Britain, which helps people assimilate in the UK, does not make encouraging reading.

It found that 69.2 per cent of the migrants had an undergraduate degree or above and 32.2 per cent had more than 21 years of work experience, 19.2 per cent 11-15 years and 17 per cent six-ten years. But only 35.2 per cent were working full- or part-time or were self-employed; 46.1 per cent were unemployed or looking for work.

“Recent Hong Kong arrivals have been willing and flexible to fill in job vacancies in the UK in the sectors where they were not in Hong Kong before,” it said.

The survey found the top professions of the migrants before they left Hong Kong were finance, insurance, communications and education, accounting for 31.3 per cent of the total. The top jobs in UK now are storage and transport; professional, scientific and technical activities; food services and accommodation.

So a majority of the migrants are working in worse jobs than they had here and, with higher income tax, their net income has fallen sharply.

Julian Chan, co-founder of the Hongkongers in Britain, called for more streamlined job-matching programmes and cultural transition training sessions in the workplace.

A retired teacher from a private secondary school in HK said that three of its most experienced teachers, each with more than 20 years of experience, emigrated suddenly last year to UK. “Two of them, a husband and wife, high-quality teachers of Chinese, are working in a restaurant in Edinburgh. The other has applied for a job in a nursery in London.

“We wonder if it will be like the previous migrations after June 4 and before 1997. Once the migrants acquire a foreign passport, they will come back. With such a passport, they can leave at any time,” he said.

In one video, a mother of three children who left with her husband outlined “the eight reasons not to emigrate”. Among them were the weather, especially the winter; the food; an alcohol culture that forces you to drink beer to be part of social life; adjusting to British social norms and customs. Worst was the lack of domestic helpers, she said. In Hong Kong, she had a Filipina maid but now must do everything herself.

It is easier for those past retirement age; they have sufficient savings to buy a property and cover living costs.

“My cousin and her husband have retired and are devout Christians,” said Mary Lee, who works in public hospital. “They moved to a Christian community in Britain. They have an instant community to look after them. They enjoy the tranquility and extra space they did not have here.

“Many people are moving not because of the NSL but because they want a new start, away from the stress, overcrowding and high property prices. The BNO scheme is so easy – there are no financial, academic or language requirements,” she said.

Another upside of the scheme is that, unlike certain kinds of migrants, HK people face no prejudice in the UK. They are seen as hard working, skilled and well educated, with money and not bringing an ideology that challenges the British way of life.

Mary Smith, a retired legal secretary in London, said that there was prejudice against Chinese seen as the source of Covid. “But this does not extend to Hong Kong people. Public opinion of them is favourable.”

-- Contact us at [email protected]

A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.