Feb 21, 2020 08:45 PM

Hong Kong Exodus Hits Seven-Year High

Two women talk with a taxi driver on the street in Hong Kong on June 28. Photo: IC Photo
Two women talk with a taxi driver on the street in Hong Kong on June 28. Photo: IC Photo

Residents left Hong Kong last year in numbers not seen since 2012 as the protests put a dent in the city’s reputation as an attractive place to work and study.

The net outflow of Hong Kong residents reached 29,200 in 2019, according to data released Tuesday by the city’s Census and Statistics Department. The figure doesn’t include the inflow of holders of “one-way permits,” which some Chinese mainland residents hold before moving to the city.

Last year’s number is a noticeable reversal from 2018, when Hong Kong reported a net inflow of 20,400 people, excluding one-way permit holders.

hk chart

Last year’s net outflow included both permanent and nonpermanent residents, the latter of which include students and professionals from overseas or the mainland, said Yip Siu Fai, a professor at the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong.

The social unrest that broke out in mid-2019 disturbed people’s lives, Yip told Caixin, who gave examples of schools and transportation facilities that had to be temporarily shut down because of the protests.

There is evidence that the unrest fueled a spike in emigration last year. According to Swing Wong, a manager at Hong Kong-based Midland Immigration Consultancy Ltd., around 20 people inquired about emigrating in May, and the number of inquiries rose gradually in the following months. In the month of October, after the protests had flared up, about 400 people asked about officially leaving the city. These inquiries dropped to around 100 in both January and February.

In addition, fewer people tried to move to Hong Kong for work during the protests last year. In August, employment visa applications decreased 6.9% year-on-year, and applications from mainland talent and professionals in a special program fell 8.3% year-on-year, Caixin previously learned from the city’s immigration department.

Also, around 15% of 124 local companies polled by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said they had “experienced difficulty in or were concerned about hiring talent,” according to an October report. About 28% of the surveyed companies said they were concerned about “talent drain as employees move away.”

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Based on what Yip has seen, some students who had once planned to make Hong Kong their home have instead decided to return to the mainland because they are concerned the city isn’t safe, he said.

The protests have made it harder for Hong Kong to attract and retain talent, Yip said, which will hurt the city’s development.

Contact reporter Tang Ziyi ( and editor Michael Bellart (

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