What is Behind the Exodus from Hong Kong?

What is Behind the Exodus from Hong Kong?
Photo Credit: Reuters / 達志影像

What you need to know

Tighter media restrictions and a worsening economic climate have been blamed for a spike in the number of people leaving Hong Kong.

The number of people emigrating from Hong Kong is increasing amid a tough economic climate and rising political tensions.

In the 12 months from mid-2015, 19,000 residents left Hong Kong, according to the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department (C&SD). This compares to a total of 7,000 emigrants for the whole of 2015. The highest number of residents leaving the country annually in the past five years was 8,600, in 2011.

Migration consultancies in Hong Kong put the exodus down to government media restrictions and an economic slowdown.

In a recent article in the Canada-based Ming Jing News, Richard Tsoi, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, wrote that politics may be to blame.

“The economic situation was ‘okay’ last year, so it’s possible that politics are the main reason behind their decisions,” Tsoi said.

The average age of emigrants, meanwhile, appears to tracking downwards.

Civic Exchange, an independent Hong Kong public-policy think-tank, surveyed 1,500 people from Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai in June, and found that Hong Kong residents were significantly more dissatisfied with their living environment.

Seventy percent of the respondents believed that living in Hong Kong has become worse, and that percentage rises with younger respondents. A total of 66 percent thought Hong Kong is not a good place for children to grow up in, compared with 13 percent in Singapore and 16 percent in Shanghai. About 42 percent of Hong Kong respondents said they would move away from Hong Kong if they could.

Searching for cheap ways to become U.S. citizens

The U.S. and Australia are currently the most popular destinations for Hong Kong emigrants, respectively averaging 2,500 and 2,000 Hong Kong immigrants in the past five years, according to the Hong Kong Security Bureau.

But immigrating to the U.S. can be time-consuming and expensive, so Hong Kongers have found alternative ways to move to the U.S., the Hong Kong website reports.

Alex, a 25-year-old Hong Kong native, said joining the military is the fastest way to move to the U.S. After graduating from college in the U.S., he joined the military under the recruitment program “Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest,” which grants foreigners U.S. citizenship after they complete their training. Alex has completed his training and now is hoping to become a film director in Hollywood.

Milk, a 52-year-old woman, also from Hong Kong, is currently applying for an employment-based visa to move to the U.S. permanently. The visa requires people to work in the U.S. for a year before gaining U.S. citizenship. She plans to become a packer in a factory and live with her son, who is currently studying in New York City. She worries about the future of the Hong Kong economy.

Influx of Hong Kongese in Taiwan

Taiwan and Canada are also becoming popular destinations for Hong Kong emigrants, with the number of people moving to Canada up by 85 percent so far this year from 2015.

The number of Hong Kong immigrants to Taiwan has also grown rapidly in recent years. An article in Voice of America in June suggests that the rapid growth after 2014 could be a result of the Umbrella Movement. In an interview with VOA, a Hong Kong immigrant, Edward, said the Umbrella Movement was key to his decision to move to Taiwan.

“I thought Hong Kong was different from China,” Edward said. “That is why I lived there in peace. However, after the Umbrella Movement, seeing how the government responded, I am no longer certain what Hong Kong is becoming. That made my final decision to leave.”

According to Taiwan's Ministry of the Interior, the number of new Hong Kong immigrants in Taiwan was 687 in 2014 and increased to 891 in 2015.

A lower cost of living, similar culture and lower immigration fees are key reasons people from Hong Kong chose to move to Taiwan, according to Orange News.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: Edward White