Hong Kong is unlikely to see a major exodus to the U.K. under its new visa program for millions of residents who hold British National (Overseas) passports, with the impact partially offset by new arrivals from mainland China, according to a top government adviser.
The actual number of departing Hong Kongers will be “far, far smaller” than current estimates that as many as 1 million people will leave for the U.K. over the next five years, Bernard Chan, a financier and the convener of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s advisory Executive Council, said on Monday. While the territory has seen people flee during past crises, each time “either they return or there’s new immigrants coming in,” he said.
The difference between the exodus of Hong Kongers in the 1990s and the one unfolding today, Chan said, was now there is a large pool of talented mainlanders who can take their place. He said those leaving now are a mix of people who don’t trust China, who want a better education for their children or who “think they may not be as competitive” in a changing economy that increasingly values skilled mainlanders who can help international firms win business in China.
“If you look at foreign firms, they’re all hiring mainland returnees,” Chan said. “Their clients are all Chinese from the mainland. Can you blame them?”
On Jan. 31, the U.K. will begin accepting visa applications for as many as 2.9 million BNO-eligible Hong Kong residents and 2.3 million additional dependents that together make up nearly 70% of the territory’s population. Londonannounced the move after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in June, which the British government called a “clear and serious breach” of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that paved the way for the former colony’s return to Chinese rule.
China justified the security measures barring subversion, terrorism, secession and foreign collusion as a necessary tool to end sometimes-violent protests that hit the city in 2019, while the U.K. said the new law “restricts the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.” Some pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong have called for measures to only allow city residents to hold one passport.
Chan said that while it’s clear that some people have begun to leave Hong Kong for the U.K., previous waves of outward migration from Hong Kong to places such as Canada — including after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and ahead of the handover in 1997 — were offset by new arrivals, as well as people returning to the city once things settled down.
“Right now, we’re still in the middle of the storm — it’s not a good time to assess the situation,” Chan said. “But either way, it won’t come close to the number of people being projected.”
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