Hong Kong Sees a Second Wave of Emigration
(Hong Kong) – While many mainland Chinese see Hong Kong as an attractive place to move their families, the number of people leaving the former British colony for greener grass – and bluer skies – has increased in recent years.
Data from Hong Kong's Security Bureau shows some 3,900 people emigrated in the first half of this year. Though this is still far fewer than the tens of thousands of people who left every year before Britain returned the city to China in 1997 – some 60,000 a year were leaving in the early 1990s – it is nonetheless indicative of a new trend.
The figure for the first half of 2013 is 8.3 percent higher than for the same period of last year, when a total of 7,600 moved away. The latest wave of departures started in 2011, when for the first time in a decade the number of people emigrating grew.
Chen Xiaoyi, an immigration specialist who works for a Canadian company, said that there has been a "massive number of requests" recently from people looking for information about moving out of Hong Kong.
"Some migration intermediary agencies are obliged to hold seminars on weekends," she said. "Such seminars were very popular before 1997 and then disappeared for years."
One woman and her husband who did not want to be named chose to move to Australia in August 2012.
"Hong Kong's living spaces are tiny," she said. "It's hard to buy property. The air is bad and the work pressures are heavy. In an economic downturn, one can be laid off any time."
A recent report by the city's government says the preferred destinations for Hongkongers are the United States, Australia and Canada. The major reasons people said they left included political turmoil, a slumping economy and a desire to find a better place to educate their children.
Hong Kong's real GDP grew just 1.4 percent last year, and growth is expected to be between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent this year. Because its tiny economy is so open to the outside world, Hong Kong is vulnerable to external economic shocks.
As the government's report for last year shows, the city's economy has undergone a significant slowdown since mid-2011. This is partly due to the fact the European debt crisis has not been resolved and major advanced economies are still recovering from the 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis. This has posed a challenge for Hong Kong's traders and its service exports.
Chen said that while in the past people moved because their real estate was losing value, this round of departures had to do with soaring property prices. In short, some people were selling now while prices were still high, Chen said. More than 70 percent of Chen's clients said they had properties they wanted to sell.
If median housing prices are divided by media annual household income, Hong Kong has the least affordable homes among 300 cities around the world, the U.S. consultancy Demographia says.
As an immigration specialist pointed out, for an investment of half a million euros a person can get a residence permit in Portugal, but that amount will not buy a small apartment in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong has not had politics as usual since Leung Chin-ying became chief executive, as the city calls its leader, last year. His reign has been controversial because many of his tops aides have been involved in scandals.
"Regardless of whether they are wrong or right, the involvement of senior officials in scandals has led to people distrusting the government and has affected government administrative efficiency," says Rita Fan, former chairman of the city's Legislative Council.
Adds Ma Ngok, associate professor of politics and administration at Chinese University: "Hong Kong's political situation right now is in the biggest mess of the past 12 years."
People are also worried about educational matters. Chen said that 80 percent of her clients are middle class and had children from newborns to teenagers. For a lot of them, the desire to move had to do with educating their offspring.
One woman Caixin spoke to is emigrating for the second time. The first was when her parents moved her family before the handover. She later returned, but now her and her husband are taking their five-year-old son to Canada, where she said she expects him to get a better education.
"All the parents around me arrange intense activities for their children," she said. "Otherwise it just seems impossible to compete with other children."
She said that if her son were to stay in Hong Kong he would be obliged to follow the rules of the game and was worried about putting this much stress on him.
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