Hong Kong’s Emigration Wave Continues, With UK and Taiwan First Choices

Travelers wait to check in for their flights at the airport in Hong Kong on Aug. 14, 2019. (Vincent Thian/AP Photo)
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BY KATHLEEN LI

Hong Kong’s new National Security Law has changed the region’s social climate and triggered a new wave of emigration.

Hong Kong’s official census shows that 66,000 residents moved out in 2020, mostly the young and middle-aged. One survey showed that 84 percent of high-income groups were considering emigrating overseas.

According to data released by Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department on Feb. 18, the total population in Hong Kong was 7,481,800 in mid-2020. This had reduced to an estimated 7,474,200 by the end of 2020. The net migration for the first half of 2020 was minus 26,200 (more emigrants than immigrants), and the net migration for the second half of 2020 was estimated to be minus 39,800. This means the total loss due to migration in 2020 was around 66,000.

Although the pandemic restricted international travel, the number of departures from Hong Kong was still on the rise. The monthly net departure from Hong Kong in the first half of 2020 was 4,367, and in the second half of 2020 it was 6,633.

The latest “General Household Survey” by Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department showed that in the first quarter of 2021, the “land-based non-institutional population” is now 7,358,800. The land-based non-institutional population excludes those living in military facilities, correctional institutions, schools, university dormitories, religious institutions, and hospitals.

According to the Census and Statistics Department, the young and middle-aged groups were the primary emigrants. The combined data of males and females in 2020 show the largest decline in proportion was the age group between 15 to 24 years old, a decrease of 0.2 percent; followed by the age group between 25 and 39 years old, and 45 to 49 years old, which both dropped by 0.1 percent. Following their parents’ emigration, children under the age of four also dropped by 0.1 percent.

The population decline in Hong Kong caused the aging population to increase in proportion. The proportion of people aged 70 to 74 increased by 0.3 percent, and those aged 60 to 64 increased by 0.2 percent. The drop in Hong Kong’s population has triggered such rises.

An Irish investment immigration company in Hong Kong, Bartra Wealth Advisor, conducted an online questionnaire survey. Of the 1,200 respondents, most were in Hong Kong’s high-income groups, such as corporate white-collar workers, businessmen, and other professionals. According to the survey results released on Feb. 9, 32 percent of people are considering emigrating overseas, 52 percent said they would consider it in the future, and only 16 percent said they would not consider it.

In the survey, when asked about the estimated time to leave Hong Kong, of those emigrating, 15 percent said they would leave Hong Kong within a year after obtaining the immigration permit, and 85 percent said it would take two years or more to make the transition.

The survey also showed that the first choice countries or regions for immigration are the United Kingdom and Taiwan, followed by the United States, Australia, and Canada. The 12 countries available for selection in the questionnaire included Ireland, Germany, Thailand, Malaysia, and Portugal.

After the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) implemented the National Security Law, the UK, Australia, Canada, Taiwan, and the United States announced special visa channels for Hong Kong immigrants or loosened their existing visa policies.

The United Kingdom

On Jan. 31, the British National (Overseas) visa, or BN(O) visa, began to accept applications, providing those with BN(O) status or Hong Kong passport holders a path to immigration.

According to official updates on June 18, the UK Home Office received a total of 34,300 applications in the first quarter of 2021, of which 20,600 were out-of-country applications, 13,700 were in-country applications, 20,000 were main applicants, and 14,300 were dependents.

The UK government granted 5,600 out-of-country BN(O) visas in Q1 of 2021, of which 3,600 were main applicants and 2,000 were dependents. The government also granted 1,600 in-country BN(O) visas, of which 1,200 were main applicants and 400 were dependents. As expected, 86 percent of the visas were granted to applicants that hold Hong Kong passports or BN(O) status.

At the same time, the UK government allowed Hong Kong residents with BN(O) status to reside, study, and work in the UK by exercising the “Leave Outside the [Immigration] Rules” (LOTR), and then apply for a BN(O) visa within the UK. The policy has been extended to July 19.

In the first quarter of 2021, the British government provided LOTR for about 5,500 Hong Kong and BN(O) passport holders to enter the UK.

The UK government estimated that emigrants from Hong Kong would continue to increase. According to its national statistics, before the CCP enforced the National Security Law in July 2019, about 2.9 million people met BN(O) qualification, but only 167,000 held BN(O) passports. As of August 2020, the number of BN(O) passport holders had surged to 612,000.

The UK government plans to publish its Q2 data on Aug. 26, 2021.

Taiwan

According to Taiwan’s Ministry of the Interior National Immigration Agency, from January to May 2021, Taiwan granted 3,983 resident visas and 837 permanent resident visas to Hong Kong residents. In the same period in 2020, it granted 2,764 resident visas and 588 permanent resident visas to Hong Kong residents. The visas issued to Hong Kong residents were increased by 44 percent and 42 percent, respectively, in one year.

In 2020, Taiwan granted a total of 10,800 resident visas and 1,576 permanent resident visas to Hong Kong residents.

Australia

According to the Australian Department of Home Affairs, since the announcement of the new Hong Kong visa policy on July 9, 2020, as of March 31 of this year, the number of Temporary Skill Shortage visas has increased by 22.3 percent, and Temporary Graduate visas increased by 54 percent.

And from July 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, the Australian government provided protection visas to 138 Hong Kong passport holders.

The latest Hong Kong emigration wave marks the fourth since the beginning of the Sino–British negotiations in the 1980s. The causes of the first three emigration waves were the Sino–British negotiations, the June 4 Tiananmen Square incident in 1989, and the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997.

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