Has Hong Kong emigration to UK peaked?

December 05, 2022 09:37
Photo: Reuters

Mary Chan described how buying a house in the UK had driven her to distraction. “The agent did not turn up for our appointment. The solicitor replied late and incompletely to my questions.” She twice took holidays.

Chan is one of dozens of Hong Kong migrants describing their experiences on Youtube. “One headache was to convince the bank of the legality of my source of funds. Officers in a small branch in Britain cannot comprehend the large sums going in and out of accounts in Hong Kong and are suspicious of them. They are not used to this.”

This negative feedback is one reason why the flood of migrants to Britain is slowing. In the third quarter of 2022, just over 10,100 Hongkongers applied for emigration, down by 8,000 from the second quarter and the lowest quarterly figure since the BNO visa scheme was launched in January 2021. Since then, a total of more than 150,600 have applied, and 144,576 were approved, according to the British Home Office.

Potential applicants see that the migrants have landed into the worst economic situation in Britain since World War Two – annual inflation in October was 11.1 per cent, the highest for 41 years. The Bank of England has forecast that the economy will shrink 0.75 per cent in the second half of this year and keep weakening next year and the first half of 2024.

This is due to high energy prices and tight monetary policy, causing higher home mortgages and borrowing costs for companies. Among G20 countries, the British economy will be the second worst performer in 2023, ahead only of Russia.

Making things worse are large-scale strikes by railway workers, postmen, university staff, lawyers and even nurses.

For the first time in 106 years, in November, the Royal College of Nursing, or RCN, decided to strike after a ballot vote on industrial action with more than 300,000 union members. They demand better pay and better patient safety. The RCN anticipates nurses at most of the state-run National Health Services, as well as many of the country’s biggest hospitals, to take part in the strikes, due to take place in December.

The British government does not have the money to meet the demands of these different workers, because of enormous subsidies paid out during the Covid epidemic and sharply higher energy costs caused by Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine.

Migration consultant Cheung Ga-hei said that these bad economic conditions were persuading older people and those with low education in Hong Kong to wait before applying. “Emigration to the UK may have peaked. Most of those who wanted to go went last year. Those who have not gone have other considerations and may decide to stay here.”

May Leung works as a client relationship officer at a foreign bank in Hong Kong. “I have a BNO passport but am not considering emigration to UK. One of my former colleagues went and is now working as a bank teller in Britain. After taxes, rent and living expenses, she can save nothing.

“Many Hong Kong people cannot find a job similar to the ones they held here. They are doing worse jobs for less pay,” she said.
Over the longer term, a black cloud is hanging over the BNO emigration scheme – controls on immigration.

On November 24, the British Office for National Statistics announced that, in the year to June 2022, net migration to the UK reached a record 504,000, with 1.1 million long-term immigrants arriving during the period. Most of those leaving were EU nationals going home.

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, 144,000 Ukrainians have arrived in Britain. Many are likely to stay permanently. An additional 39,400 illegals arrived in the first nine months of the year, on small boats across the Channel or by other methods. It is very hard for the government to repatriate them.

The British public is strongly opposed to this level of immigration. It was one of the main reasons why a majority voted to leave the European Union in 2016. A poll released by Migration Watch UK in July this year found 60 per cent of the public wanted a reduction in immigration, and 34 per cent wanted a large reduction. Of Conservative supporters, 73 per cent favoured a reduction, with 49 per cent wanting a severe reduction.

The government constantly fails to meet a target of keeping net immigration at less than 100,000 a year.

The UK government is very unlikely to end the BNO scheme. But it may be forced to put an annual cap on the number coming from Hong Kong as part of an effort to keep the overall figure down.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.